Parents have a responsibility in ensuring that children learn to care for their health. They need to be thought about basic health principles early on in life. One of the most fundamental principles that need to be ingrained into children is healthy eating habits. Here are 21 ways how to encourage healthy eating habits for children;
Table of Contents for Article
1. Educate yourself about healthy eating – This is the most essential step. You need to know what you are doing and why you are doing it. Education is the first and most crucial step towards enlightenment.
2. Lead by example – You children will watch what you eat and how much physical activity you do. They will emulate you. You need to clean up your act first. If you are overweight, do something about your weight and lead by example.
3. Do not use food as a reward – Most parents use sweets and junk food as a reward. You should immediately stop doing this is if you have such tendencies. This is sending the wrong signals to children and can lead to problems related to emotional eating in their adulthood.
4. Monitor your children’s eating habits – In order to make changes, you need to first assess how bad the situation is. You can do this by assessing the eating habits of your children for a week. This will give you a good idea of what is not right and where you can make changes. Keep track of all your observations in a daily journal.
Preparing your children
5. Make a joint pledge – Tell your children that you have decided to start eating healthily. Confess to them about all the food that you should not have eaten. Tell them that it will not be hard for you and that they should help keep an eye on you as well.
6. Educate children about healthy eating – Teach children about nutrition. Explain to them what they get from fruits and vegetables. Explain to them why junk food is bad for health. I help my son to read the food labels on some of the junk food. Most of the ingredients in junk food are coded in numbers. My son can see for himself all the preservatives in junk food. It helps him assess for himself and not taking everything I say at face-value.
Taking the first steps
7. Clear your house of junk & processed food – Children will reach for unhealthy food if it is in sight or within reach. It is for this reason that you need to clear your kitchen of all unhealthy food and drinks. Enlist the help of your children and make the clearing of your kitchen as a fun activity.
8. Fix meal times – Parents need to be sure that children eat at fixed times. Irregular meal times may cause children to become cranky. Parents need to take the responsibility of ensuring fixed meal times.
9. Introduce supplements – Give your child a high quality multivitamin. Ideally, the multivitamin should be endorsed by consumerlab. This acts as nutritional insurance against any possible nutritional lack.
10. Pack meals from home – For as long as you can, pack your child’s meals from home. This way, you will have strong control over the eating habits in the formative years. You do not have to be very rigid. Allow your child to eat out regularly so that he or she will not feel deprived.
Tips on how to encourage healthy eating habits for children
11. Measure water consumption – Most children do not drink enough water. The first signs of dehydration are often dry and cracked lips. Fill up a water container and encourage them to finish it within a given amount of time. You will keep an eye on how much water they need to drink daily. You can encourage competition between siblings as this is the most effective way for them to drink up. Children are adequately hydrated once they have soft luscious lips and almost clear urination.
12. Encourage children to graze on nuts – Introduce your children to nuts. Encourage them to reach for nuts when they are hungry. Children will often readily consume nuts if you also add in some raisins. Raisins may not be the best snack food but it will at least cause children to eat more nuts. You can also increase the ratio of nuts to raisins.
13. Encourage children to eat fruits with main meals – Children will often eat fruits if you pick the sweeter variety. Train children to eat fruits 2 to 3 times a day with their main meals. Most children will also willingly take fruits as a snack between the main meals. The key to ingraining this habit is picking sweeter fruits.
14. Fruit smoothies – Replace the cravings for sodas and ice-creams by giving children smoothies. You can add molasses or honey to sweeten the smoothie.
15. Every meal should have vegetables – Make sure that there is a vegetable dish with every main meal.
16. Allow a cheat meal on the weekend – Allow your children to eat whatever they want for one meal a week. This is psychologically effective as it tells children that the unhealthy food is reserved for a particular meal in a week. Parents can also benefit from having a cheat meal if they have been diligent with their diet for the entire week. While children can eat whatever they want during a cheat meal, parents should follow the essential cheat meal rules.
17. Instill the importance of eating breakfast – Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you need to tell children that. Tell them why it is important and how your body needs to come out of the fasting state. Have breakfast together as this helps to subconsciously program them to have breakfast.
18. Avoid liquid calories – This especially applies to sodas and sugary drinks. All other forms of beverages should also be minimized. The only other beverage that can be given is a healthy smoothie.
19. Stop consumption of milk – Wean children off milk as soon as possible. Milk has minimum benefit for children and can instead cause all kinds of allergic reactions. Most parents will worry that their children will not have adequate calcium intake if milk is stopped. They can work around this by giving children a high quality calcium supplement.
20. Ask children about their meal preferences – Very few parents actually ask their children what they would like to eat or how they like their meals cooked. Most of the time, you will be pleasantly surprised when you engage your children.
Avoid falling off the wagon
21. Identify the troublemakers – There will be those people who will unintentionally try to derail your efforts to help your child eat healthy. This includes people like grandparents. Inform these people about your rules and get them on your side. Some will resist you and you just have to remain firm until they realize that you will not budge from healthy eating principles.
You have to realize that you are not depriving your child of that chocolate or the ice-cream. There is a time and place for it. They can have chocolates and ice-creams during their cheat meal. You need to be responsible for bringing order into their lives. What you do in their formative years will have a lasting impact in their adult life.
Learning how to encourage healthy eating habits for children will be one of the most important things that you will ever do as a parent. Lead by example and your children will follow. They will eventually have habits that mirror yours.