On the surface, feeding kids is a pretty straightforward job. All you have to do is whip up some dishes and feed them, right? I’m afraid it’s not that simple, especially if you have picky eaters.
Most kids prefer junk and fast-food snacks, often high in fat and cholesterol. Rarely will they go for nutrient-packed, home-cooked meals.
To combat this, parents should start building healthy eating habits in childhood. To help you through this, here are the top seven tips for encouraging kids to eat healthily.
1. Engage Your Kids in Meal Planning
Not every cooking-related task is too difficult for a child to do. Depending on their age, your little one can help with a few tasks.
Let’s take a kindergartener, for instance. They can’t slice vegetables or turn on the gas stove. But I bet they can switch on the food processor’s button, tear up lettuce to make a salad, and keep track of the countdown on a timer. Plus, they make excellent taste testers.
Older kids can do much more, from measuring ingredients to chopping vegetables and making salads.
2. Go Grocery Shopping With Them
Do you have a child who is reluctant to help you in the kitchen? If you do, inviting them to a grocery shopping errand is a better way of easing them into it.
To make this even more fun, come up with a game they can play during shopping. For instance, you can have them guess the prices of products, pick out rainbow-colored fruits and vegetables, or tally the prices of products being purchased.
Going grocery shopping and incorporating such games helps them get excited about food and the art of cooking.
3. Set Family Meal Times
Multiple studies have shown that kids do better when there’s a routine. In fact, routines allow kids to feel more secure and in control of their environment. So another healthy eating habit you can instill in your child is adhering to family mealtimes.
It would help if you ate as a family at specific times each day whenever possible. Even when it comes to snacks, try to serve them at around the same time. This encourages kids to eat healthily and avoid overeating.
Plus, it presents a nice opportunity to teach your munchkins about table etiquette. Here are a few things you can teach them during these family dinners:
- Wash their hands before heading to the table
- Avoid using gadgets at the dinner table
- Avoid talking with their mouths full
- Always clear the table when they finish eating
4. Make Healthy Snacks Readily Available
Children often snack on whatever is available. So if there’s a lot of junk food in the house, that’s what they’ll go for. However, if you have healthy snacks around, they’re more inclined to eat them.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that you should make these snacks completely off-limits. If you do, your child will likely look for opportunities to eat them anytime they’re away. Instead, you should set limits and be mindful of where you place them.
Place the healthy snacks on the lower and easy-to-reach shelves or cabinets. Meanwhile, any junk food items can go on higher shelves. And, of course, there should only be a small portion of these unhealthy snacks.
5. Teach Them the Importance of Breakfast
Does your child habitually snooze through their morning alarm or do school projects at the last minute? If so, there’s a good chance that they’ve skipped breakfast multiple times.
This study carried out by the CDC shows that about 17.6% of children and adolescents skip breakfast on any given day. Unfortunately, the proportion of kids who miss breakfast increases with age.
If your child has been missing breakfast, it’s time you start emphasizing its significance. As the first meal of the day, this is what fuels their body; giving them enough energy to kick start their day. Consider these few tips for easier and healthier breakfast eating:
- Enforce an early bedtime policy - this way, your kids can get up early and have enough time for breakfast and other things.
- Get creative with breakfast meals - instead of the usual milk and cereal, switch it up with milkshakes, smoothies, or frozen fruits.
- Have grab-and-go breakfast items on hand - these include hard-boiled eggs, energy bars, fresh fruits, and granola bars.
- Have breakfast as a family.
6. Avoid Negative Reinforcement
Have you ever denied your children access to certain things until they had their dinner or breakfast? Even though you had good intentions, this was the wrong approach. Doing so causes them to associate negatively with food.
Instead, encourage your toddler to listen to their body - eat a healthy meal or snack whenever they feel hungry and drink water whenever they’re thirsty.
When you bribe them with food, you convey the message that they should neglect their feelings. As a result, they’ll only eat based on what you tell them rather than what their body needs.
7. Encourage Hydration
Ensuring that your child drinks enough water every day can be challenging, especially if you don’t spend the whole day with them. Unfortunately, not every child will remember to hydrate regularly. They might get too distracted by sports, studies, and other things. To ensure your child is staying hydrated, consider these few tips:
- Infuse the water with different flavors - add some mint leaves or fruits such as berries, limes, and lemons.
- Be a good role model - if the kids see you drinking water regularly, they’ll do the same.
- Make hydration fun for your youngster by allowing them to pick their favorite cup or water bottle.
- Invest in travel-friendly water bottles - kids’ water bottles should be easy to hold and drink from.
If your child has already gotten accustomed to unhealthy eating habits, they might not embrace the dietary changes you make.
To help them build healthy eating habits, consider engaging them in meal planning, going with them to shop for groceries, and making healthy snacks readily available. At the same time, avoid associating food with negative things and encourage them to drink water frequently.