8 Tips for Teaching Kids to Make Healthy Food Choices
Much has been written and discussed in recent years about the nutritional habits of American kids (and their parents) and the subsequent rise in childhood obesity and diseases like diabetes. So how do we raise our children to be balanced eaters in a fast food world? One step at a time.
- Cook. Sounds silly, right? Doesn't everyone cook? But families today eat out far more than previous generations. Outside of your own kitchen, you lose control of the menu and lots of unhealthy choices come into play. Avoid the whole scenario by eating the vast majority of your meals at home where you can consistently offer nutritious choices.
- Empower Your Kids. If you prepare a meal with two or three veggie choices, you can allow your children to pick two and know that they're getting what they need. At the same time, they don't feel so boxed in and "forced" to eat things they aren't ready to try quite yet.
- Let the Kids Help. Most children are more willing to try a new food if they helped to prepare it—another good reason to eat at home. Allow them to help out in the kitchen to become familiar with the things they'll see on the table.
- Use the Table As a Teachable Moment. During dinner with my son, I once commented that carrots were good for your eyesight. He asked how I knew. "Well," I replied, "You've never seen a rabbit wearing glasses, have you?" Suddenly, carrots were fun—and funny—and he thinks of them as some sort of super food that may actually give him x-ray vision if he eats enough. While his expectations may be a tad high, it taught me the value of explaining in specific terms what healthy foods can do for you. Talk about how the milk makes your bones stronger and your hair prettier. Trust me, they'll remember.
- Think Moderation. You can't control the entire food universe. When your child goes to a friend's house to play, they may eat junk food. When the family is traveling, you may eat more fast food meals than usual. If, however, you've followed the path of healthy eating week in and week out at home, none of these brief deviations will have any significant impact on your child's overall health. Control what you can (which is a lot) and don't get too stressed out about what you can't.
- Practice What You Preach. Kids can spot hypocrisy a mile away. If you promote healthy choices for them but choose differently for yourself it will confirm their suspicions that the junk foods are more desirable. Monkey see—monkey do.
- Relax. If you seem desperate to get your kids to eat well, it might work against you. Just be faithful day in and day out to shop healthy and cook healthy, and don't panic at the first hint of a kid rebellion. In the absence of a lot of junk food options, they'll eventually get with the program. No one ever died from skipping a single meal, so if they completely reject a particular meal, so be it.
- Learn How to Compromise on the Presentation. We're not suggesting that you compromise on the nutritional value of foods, but if your child would rather snack on fruit popsicles and air-popped popcorn than carrot sticks and celery, it's OK. Both have their merits, and if one is far more appealing to your child than the other, ask yourself if the issue deserves making a fuss. In most cases, the answer is no.
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