My kids eat a fairly healthy diet, and I believe strongly in moderation. We follow a sort of 80/20 rule when it comes to eating, where we eat healthy 80% of the time and 20% of the time we enjoy some treats and other indulgences. In my opinion, if you are overly restrictive, kids will just find another place to indulge.
It’s important to me that my children learn to fuel their bodies and that foods are neither “good,” nor “bad.” I want them to have a healthy relationship with foods, so here are some of my guidelines for encouraging healthy eating behaviors in children.
Model Healthy Eating Habits
This one is sort of common sense, but as always, it bears repeating. The primary way that children learn habits, whether it’s food, exercise, or anything else, is by watching their parents. It absolutely kills me when I see parents riding their kids about making healthy choices, while they are filling their plates with unhealthy foods. Children do not always do what you say, but they will do what you do!
Teach Your Children About Food and Nutrition
Most children love to learn, so take the opportunity to involve them in learning about the foods they eat and where they come from. Going to the grocery store is a great way to help them learn. When you are going through the different departments, talk about what you see. When you go through the produce department, see how many fruits and vegetables the kids can pick out. It’s fun to encourage them to pick out one fruit or vegetable each that they haven’t tried before. You never know what they’re going to like– they may surprise you!
Here are some great websites that can help you teach your children about food and nutrition:
Stock Your Kitchen and Pantry With Healthy Snacking Options
Kids like to help themselves to everything, including their own food and snacks. To eliminate the temptation of unhealthy snack foods, make sure the refrigerator and pantry are full of healthier options like pre-washed or pre-cut fruit, trail mix, carrot sticks, yogurts, I also like to get pre-measured packets of trail mix, pretzels, and other snack foods to stash in the car or in my bag (or sometimes in their school backpack for right after school when hanger sets in!).
Pack Healthy Lunches for School
You can help set your child up for a good afternoon at school by packing a healthy lunch that will fuel them well for the rest of the school day. Believe it or not, it’s pretty easy to create a healthy AND appealing lunch for your child. If your child loves a meal you cook, why not send in leftovers in a thermos? You can also create little make your own pizzas (a healthy lunchable replacement!).
You can make their favorite sandwich and use a cookie cutter to make fun shapes, or pack snacks in reusable silicone baking cups bento-box style. There are so many different options, and Pinterest has a TON of ideas to get you started!
Involve them in Meal Preparation
Kids love to “help,” and believe it or not, if you let them help make a meal they are MUCH more likely to actually eat it (gasp-even if it contains green veggies!). My middle son LOVES to cook and help in the kitchen. He even has his own apron and cooking utensils. I love to see how excited he gets to pick recipes and work in the kitchen with me to bake or prepare dinner. Even though he doesn’t realize it, he’s learning early math skills, science skills, refining motor sills, and more, while having fun at the same time!
He’s so proud of the foods he prepares, and he definitely eats more of a meal that he has helped prepare. Luckily, there are a ton of great cookbooks out there with easy to prepare and kid-friendly recipes. I know that it can sometimes be stressful when you are trying to get dinner on the table quickly, so maybe pick a weekend meal to have your kids help with to start. I don’t beat myself up if my kids have more junk one day, I just try to balance it out. If it seems overwhelming, trying making one small change at a time.