Are Your Kids Food-Smart?

It’s more than forcing your kids to eat their broccoli. Here’s how to encourage life-long healthy habits.

What’s your child’s favorite vegetable? If the answer is French fries you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. The good news is it’s never too late to instill healthy eating habits in your kids. Even a few small changes can make a huge impact on the future of your child’s health. Why worry with it? The eating patterns set in childhood will set the stage for a lifetime of healthy choices.

Additionally, nutritious food for kids is essential for healthy brain development, heart health, learning skills, concentration, behavior, sleep, and weight control. The number of obese children has doubled and the number of obese teens has quadrupled over the last three decades. More than one out of three kids is considered overweight or obese. With these staggering statistics, it’s time to make some changes.

Here are six practical ways parents can teach a positive view of healthy food.

Keep Junk Away

When the cupboards are filled with junk food, how can you expect a child to choose carrot sticks over cookies? A hungry child will eat what’s available, so if healthy foods are all that is available, that’s what the kid will eat. With that in mind, keep your refrigerator and cupboards stocked with yummy, convenient, healthy snack and meal choices so kids don’t have the choice to choose unhealthy options.

Set an Example

The phrases “actions speak louder than words” and “practice what you preach” can be applied to parents, kids, and food. Those times you have the munchies, do you run to the vending machine or eat an apple? Do you grab fast food or make a simple, healthy homemade meal? Show your kids you enjoy healthy foods. They’re watching whether you know it or not.

Allow Indulgences

When certain favorite foods are made off limits, kids may feel deprived and binge in secret or develop other eating disorders later in life. Rather than placing restrictions and labeling certain foods as evil, create a positive view of food by encouraging healthy options and talking about the benefits of a well-balanced diet. A few indulgences every now and then never hurt anyone.

Use Other Rewards

Parents often fall into the trap of rewarding their children with food. Kids who are taught that good performance or behavior equals sweets and treats are more likely to carry this pattern into adulthood. Equating foods with emotions leads to emotional eating and weight gain. So, rather than heading to the ice cream parlor to reward a straight-A report card, praise your child and head to the playground.

Make Meals a Family Affair

Serve snacks and meals on a regular schedule. Kids who are allowed to graze throughout the day end up eating more junk and consuming more calories than they need. When mealtime rolls around, enlist your kids’ help in meal preparation so they learn to appreciate good food and how to prepare it when mom’s not around. Depending on their age, kids can help set the table, cut up salads, mix ingredients, or do the dishes.

Studies show children raised in homes that have regular family dinners eat more nutritious food and are less likely to be overweight.

Give Them a Choice

Did your parents ever force you to sit at the table until you ate all your peas? Getting some kids to eat healthy foods can be a challenge. Yes, kids need to eat vegetables, but try to serve the ones they prefer more often. Giving them a choice between two vegetables may provide them with a sense of control so they may eat more than if the only option is green beans.

You should also try serving healthy foods prepared in different ways. Maybe your child prefers raw veggies to steamed or veggies dipped in hummus rather than plain.