Have you ever met a parent who didn’t know what their kids ought to eat? I haven’t. Instead, I’ve met plenty of parents who would feed their children plenty of healthy foods if only their kids would eat them. But so many kids won’t! Here’s a five-step plan to raise your kids with healthy eating habits.
Forget about Nutrition
Change the conversation from nutrition to habits. Not only don’t kids need to know about nutrition in order to eat right, but research shows that hearing about how healthy something is actually turns kids off! Three habits translate everything your kids need to know about nutrition into behavior. Teach your children these habits and they’ll be set for life.
• Proportion: Eating fresh, wholesome foods more often than junky ones.
• Variety: Eating different foods from meal-to-meal and from day-to-day.
• Moderation: Only eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full and not eating because you’re bored, sad or lonely.
Teach Your Kids to be Good Tasters
I’m sure you’ve heard that children need to taste a new food around a dozen times before they’ll like it. Most parents find it difficult to reach the magic number, however, because they expect too much from their children. Although some kids can move from tasting to eating, reluctant eaters need to be comfortable taking only a taste—and a very small one at that. Develop a practice of offering your child a pea-sized sample of something new. Then, instead of asking her if she liked what she tasted, ask your child to tell you something about the food. Is it sweet or salty? Crunchy or soft? Wait until your child has tasted a new food many times before offering it at a meal.
See the World through Your Child’s Eyes
Kids need a clear and simple basis for understanding healthy eating. That’s why the habits of proportion, variety and moderation are so effective: they’re simple to explain to even the youngest child. What’s more, the three habits give your children a basis for making eating decisions that move them beyond, “I like hot dogs!” If you look at the eating environment through the eyes of a child, food decisions seem arbitrary. Kids don’t know how you decide what or when they can eat. In an arbitrary eating environment decisions are up for grabs. How many bites of broccoli do I have to eat before I can have a brownie? Let the bidding begin!
When parents and their children get stuck in a control struggle over food, control is passed back and forth like a ball. First the parents have it. (“You’ll eat what I serve!”) Then the children have it. (“Oh, you don’t want this? What would you like me to make for dinner, honey?”) Neither approach produces a healthy eater. The solution is to find the middle ground. Do this by setting limits, (“We eat different foods from day-to-day”) while also offering choices (“Would you like an apple or a banana?).
Think Long Term
For better or for worse, children carry their eating habits with them into later life. Start teaching your children proportion, variety and moderation from the beginning, though, and they’ll be set for a lifetime of healthy eating.