Healthy Eating Tips : How to Get Kids to Eat Healthy
How to Role Model Healthy Eating
If you have kids, getting them to eat healthy involves modeling that behavior for them. One way you can role model that behavior is to include them in making good food decisions. You can also show them how to make good decisions by making good ones yourself. Finally, you can encourage healthy eating by doing things like focusing on health instead of weight or body size. If you make good choices as a healthy role model, you can help set your kids up for a lifetime of healthy eating.
Engaging Kids in Making Good Food Decisions
Take your kids to the grocery store.As you go around the store, talk about why you are choosing things from each section and how they contribute to your overall diet. It can also help to let kids make some choices, such as choosing a vegetable for dinner or a fruit to go with their lunches.
- You can also point out healthy choices you are making, such as, "We're buying whole-wheat pasta because it's healthier for us. It has more fiber." You could also say things like, "We're picking the low-fat version of this yogurt because we don't want too much fat in our diet."
Invite your kids to cook with you.Cooking is an important life skill, and you should encourage your kids to learn how to prepare their own healthy meals. Plus, being in the kitchen with you as you plan and cook the meal will help them to realize what goes into making a balanced and healthy plate.
- Let them make choices in the kitchen, within limits. For instance, you could offer them the choice between two vegetables.
- As you cook, discuss the choices you're making. You could say, "Tonight we're going to have chicken breast, which is a healthy, lean protein, along with whole wheat pasta and broccoli, a vegetable. We'll add some marinara to the pasta to add flavor and another serving of vegetables. We always like to have a lean protein, a grain (preferably a whole grain), and at least one serving of vegetables, but the more vegetables we eat, the better."
- You can also talk about why you might pair something less healthy with something healthier, like "Because we're having pizza, which is higher in fat than some other things we eat, we're going to have a light salad on the side."
Make healthy snacks available.Children ages 2 – 12 consume an estimated 30% of their daily calories in the form of sweet and salty snacks. Children have small stomachs, so they will eat smaller meals and may need to snack often.Keep healthy snacks on-hand that your kids can grab quickly. If you make it easy for you and them to choose healthy food, you're both more likely to do it. Plus, if your kids see you are making an effort to provide healthy snacks, they're more likely to choose them.
- Snacks should include lean protein, fruits, vegetables and dairy. Keep portion sizes small — the snack should not be a meal replacement.
- For instance, have small baggies of fresh veggies and hummus dip on hand or celery sticks to dip into peanut butter. You could also have fruit on the counter that's already been washed. Yogurt also makes a quick, healthy snack, as does cheese with whole-grain crackers.
- Buy less nutritious foods only on occasion. While you don't want to ban fatty, salty, or sugary foods altogether, make them something you only buy once in awhile as a treat, rather than something you keep on hand all the time. Your kids won't feel deprived, but you also won't be filling them with less nutritious snacks all the time.
Let them choose what to eat.While you may choose what is provided at a certain meal, let your kids choose what to eat. You don't want to make meals a battleground, as that can give your kids anxiety around food. In fact, it's fine if kids choose not to eat, as they know when the next meal will be.
- When your kids do eat their veggies, make sure to praise them for doing so as positive reinforcement.
Demonstrating Healthy Choices
Let your kids see you making healthy choices.When you reach for a snack, pick up some veggies or fruit or another healthy option. Your kids need to see you enjoying healthy options. Watching you munch on some raw carrots, for instance, may inspire them to try some themselves.
- If you're out somewhere and you choose a healthy food over a less healthy one, talk about why you made that choice. For instance, you could say, "I'm going to pick carrot sticks over a brownie because I haven't had any vegetables today, and I should include them in my diet. Plus, I had some sugar in my morning coffee, so I should limit my sugar now."
Show them how to indulge.That is, you of course want a treat every now and then, too, which you can do in front of your kids and still be a good role model. However, make sure you do so in moderation and only occasionally. Show your kids how to savor treats and then go back to the healthier stuff.
- For example, say you get a craving for chocolate. You could say, "I really want some chocolate tonight. However, I'm only going to eat a couple of small pieces because that's all I need to satisfy my craving. Eating just a little bit and really savoring it helps me enjoy it more."
- You could also say, "We're going to eat ice cream for dessert, so let's eat a really healthy dinner of salad with beans for protein."
Sit down to meals together.Your child can't see your eating habits if you're not eating together. Often, kids who eat meals with their parents and siblings will eat more of the healthier foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and dairy. Try to eat at least one meal a day together, whether it's breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
- Don't use mealtimes to have serious discussions about behavior or other problems. If you create tension at mealtime, your kids won't want to come to eat, making it more difficult to model healthy eating.
Talk about fullness, and work on portion control.When you do sit down to dinner, make sure you are serving correct portion sizes. If you're not sure what servings should be, make sure to research them, including information on each person in your family, as the amount a person needs can change with sex and age. Also, be sure to talk about things like how you stop eating when you get full.
- For instance, as you get near the end of your plate, you could say, "I don't think I'm going to finish those last bites because I'm getting full."
Be adventurous.You can't expect your kids to try new foods if you're not willing to do so yourself. Make sure your kids see you trying out new things and experimenting with new foods, both in the kitchen and out at restaurants. When they see you being adventurous, they may be more willing to branch out themselves.
- When you're trying a new food, describe the experience out loud, so your kids will get a better picture. Ask the kids if they want to try it, as they may be more willing when you're trying something new for the first time.
- Offer new foods to your kids one at time. One way to make it more comfortable is to serve a new food with something your kids like.
Encouraging Healthy Eating
Avoid cooking separate meals.When your kids are young, they may want foods like chicken nuggets and hot dogs on a regular basis. However, you don't need to be a short-order cook. Instead, cook one healthy meal that the whole family eats. Your children may balk at first, but when they see the rest of you enjoying it (and they get hungry enough), they'll start trying different foods.
- Plus, by not cooking them special foods, you're exposing them to a larger variety of foods so they can develop a wider palette.
Skip food labeling.Labeling certain foods as "bad" may seem like a good way to keep your kids from eating them. However, often foods that are restricted become the ones your kids will gravitate to when given the chance. A better option is to teach eating everything in moderation, making sure to keep your diet balanced.
Avoid talking about weight.While you may be concerned about your weight or even your children's weight, it's not a good idea to talk about it in front of them. Doing so can cause them to develop body image issues. Instead, place your focus on eating healthy foods and developing healthy bodies by exercising.
Video: Healthy Eating Habits for Children and Families part 1
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