Children are easily influenced by what they see and hear, particularly because they are only just beginning to form an identity in relation to what is around them. That is why they look to their parents, siblings, and other family members as role models. It is therefore imperative that if you, as a parent, want your children to develop healthy eating habits, you too need to take on those habits and ensure that you demonstrate the ways of life that you want them to emulate. Whether you are trying to influence a toddler or a teen, these strategies will surely help in improving their nutrition and encouraging healthy eating.
Healthy eating refers to eating that incorporates a variety of nutrient-rich foods, including protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins, and minerals, and results in you feeling good, having energy, and maintaining your health; taking foods in portions that generate the right number of calories — not too little not too much.
The food choices kids make or that you make for them can play a major role in their growth, health, and development. Healthy eating in childhood reduces kids' risk of developing chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers, allowing them to feel good and enjoy life more.
In order to maintain a healthy weight and remain healthy, children not only need to eat the right mix of nutrients to balance their energy use but need to be physically active as well. It is recommended that they eat a wide variety of foods from five food groups: dairy, vegetables, grains, fruits, and protein foods, limit their intake of added sugar, salt, and saturated fat, and always choose water first.
First and foremost, learn more about the dangers of kids not practicing healthy eating habits and about being healthy overall. It is never too late to start educating yourself — just being here and reading about how to develop healthy eating habits in children is a great start.
But beyond being simply aware of the risks associated with poor food choices and practices, here is what else you can do to ensure that your children are in the best health possible, all the way up until adulthood and beyond.
Picky eating can be particularly difficult for parents because it is not something they can see coming. We are sure you might have imagined having a child who doesn’t love vegetables, but you never in a million years would have expected one who only eats two or three foods and gags at anything different. As difficult as it may seem, picky eating can be overturned — the earlier the better — researchers suggest before the child turns 2. The key is to keep offering them a variety of foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables — never cook separately for them; let them eat what you are eating. The only thing is, for that to work, you too must be an adventurous eater.
Eating together as a family establishes a routine — one where meals and snacks are served at about the same time each day, as much as possible. Kids thrive on routines. Family meal times provide less of an opportunity for kids to graze and overeat and are a great time to teach them table manners and healthy eating habits. Also, it is no secret that kids have much shorter attention spans than adults — it varies by age, so limiting meal times to no longer than 30 minutes may be ideal to help them stay focused.
There are many reasons not to skip breakfast, for children and adults alike. But for children in particular, it has been shown that those who eat a complete breakfast perform better in school — they work faster, make fewer mistakes in mathematics problem-solving, and do better on vocabulary tests than those who eat only a partial breakfast. Their alertness, concentration, memory, and learning are also improved. It is therefore imperative that kids eat breakfast, but not just any breakfast — one that consists of calcium products, fruits or vegetables, proteins, and whole grains. If you experience difficulty incorporating the right mix of nutrients and fiber into your kid’s breakfast, you may find it helpful to secure the services of a registered dietician — Leadar can assist with your search.
Water is good for the body — it helps the blood circulate, keeps bones, joints, and teeth healthy, and can help kids maintain a healthy weight into adulthood. When kids don’t get enough water throughout the day, they are fooled into believing they are hungry when they are in fact thirsty, causing them to overeat. By drinking water before, during, and after meals, kids can stay hydrated and improve their memory, mood, and concentration.
The majority of children will take pleasure in deciding what should be prepared for dinner or school lunches. Speak with your kids about making food choices and planning a balanced meal. Who knows? They may even want to help shop for ingredients and prepare the meal. Don’t hold back — teach them how to read food labels and what to look for. Welcome them into the kitchen and assign them age-appropriate tasks to complete. Believe it or not, keeping kids involved conditions their minds for a lifetime of healthier choices.
Any food that you make entirely off limits, you risk your kids wanting it more, causing them to overindulge at any opportunity. Instead of a complete ban, try encouraging smaller, healthier portions of it. For example, going out for ice cream as a family is fine as long as you model for your kids the best way to eat it. Consider picking a dark chocolate topping for your frozen yogurt as opposed to hot fudge and sprinkles. If you find ways to occasionally incorporate these foods, then your kids will develop a healthier approach to them.