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6 Tips for Teaching your Kids to Eat Healthy

Featured image.
Alt-text: A baby eating red apples.

Sometimes, it seems impossible for parents not to end up in a worn-out surrender to their child’s unhealthy food preferences. Bright colors, clever marketing messages, toy tie-ins, eye-catching aisles of sweets, addictively delicious flavors of salt, fat, and sugar… When every existing marketing vehicle is created to make kids pester for a junk snack, how, in the world, could you possibly get them to eat something green? If teaching your kids to eat healthy ranks high on your list of top parenting challenges, here are six tips that could help.

Caption: It’s important to get healthy diet project underway from a very young age.
Alt-text: Baby biting a blue feeding spoon.

1. Offer choices

Rambunctious toddlers or rebellious teenagers never like to be forced to do something, and the same applies at the kitchen table. They crave autonomy, so the key to encouraging a healthy diet with your kids is – choice. Slowly start to expose them to new foods with every meal, offering them a few healthy novelties together with a meal they love and are accustomed to. By allowing them to have a choice (and maybe even thinking that it was their idea), they’ll be more excited to add something new to their plate. It might take a few tries, but don’t give up on helping them start making healthier decisions.

2. Stay neutral about foods

Avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad”, “healthy” or “junk”. Keep everything on a neutral playing field because all foods have their place, and your kids should learn that. Similarly, it’s not wise to use some junk food they like as a reward, a way to show affection, or to cope with some negative emotions. This way, children naturally place less value on their broccoli than on the cupcake you’ve offered them as a prize for finishing their dinner.

On the other hand, don’t forbid or place parameters (“We will only buy Doritos once each month”) on foods if you want to keep the little ones from rebelling in the food arena. You should keep it vague and find balance.

Lastly, without prejudice, you’ll be able to educate your children on a healthy and balanced diet instead of lecturing them. That means calmly describing the smell, texture, color of foods to younger children, emphasizing similarities between something they might like and something they already like, or educating them on essential food groups and their nutrients.

3. Quit the “clean-plate” club

Don’t make your kids clear their plates. Instead, let them leave the table when they feel they have had enough. But make sure you make them know that you’re not going to fix them a separate dinner; what’s on the table is all there is, and the next meal is at breakfast. Also, if they learn to notice when they’re full, they will not make a habit of overeating.

4. Model healthy eating

Whether it’s staying hydrated, eating healthy, exercising, or any other healthy habit, parents always play a crucial role. Kids watch everything you and your spouse do. Therefore, if you’re pushing your kids to eat spinach and kale and never touch them yourself, you’re not modeling very good eating habits. Similarly, if you always have a bag of chips lying around, it should come as no surprise if your kids never learn to snack smarter.

5. Take them for a behind-the-scenes view

Mealtime is not the only time when you can teach your kids about healthy nutrition. Registered dietitians believe that children are more likely to give more nutritious food a taste when they know where it comes from and how it is prepared. Letting them explore, exposing them to what they eat, and allowing for some autonomy will help get them interested in a healthy diet.

Get them cooking

Have your kids join you for a fun family cooking session. Being included in the process of making the meal and seeing how dishes and meals come together will make them not want to skip tasting their own creations. You can get your little cooks occupied with simple tasks like stirring a bowl, measuring ingredients, tossing a salad, etc. Inclusion is a great way of not only teaching your kids to eat healthy but also teaching them recipes they can prepare themselves when they’re older.

Caption: When you’re preparing meals for the family, include your kids in the process.
Alt-text: A family cooking together.

Bring them grocery shopping

Bring your children along when heading to the store or farmer’s market, and allow them to choose the products in your stead. Besides the fun they’ll have gathering all of the colorful veggies and fruits, this will be your chance to educate them a bit. Encourage them to try various food by sharing some nutritional benefits and facts. For instance, explain that carrots keep their eyes healthy and improve their night vision.

Grow your own fruits and vegetables

Many city families have a shared garden only to avoid artificial ingredients and processed food that traveled to their local store in plastic bags for days. Municipal leaders of Gaithersburg, MD, for example, know that people’s environments influence their day-to-day routines. When the ingredients sold at the store closest to your home aren’t fresh and healthy, getting takeout seems much more convenient than preparing a nutritious dinner. So, they’ve managed to create an environment that endorses healthy eating. The residents of Gaithersburg now have community gardens for sourcing fresh ingredients locally, residential buildings with a lot of green space for people to plant their own gardens, etc. If this sounds like your cup of tea, you might start thinking of relocating to a community that is more supportive of a healthy lifestyle. If you start your search now, you will surely find reliable local movers who can help you move to a greener neighborhood easily and begin your health-oriented life.

On the other hand, if moving is not an option and you don’t have access to a community garden, it can be as simple as purchasing a few pots. And you can even do it indoors. The point is to make unprocessed, healthy food available to you and your family at all times. When your children can see and have fun growing and taking care of healthy foods themselves, they’re more likely to endorse such a lifestyle.

6. Make it fun

You’ll stand a much better chance with educating your children on smart food choices if you get creative with meals. Dinosaur-shaped roasted sweet potato, heart-shaped radishes, star-shaped toast – cookie cutters are your new best friend. And who wouldn’t love smiley-face pancakes or that green thing that makes Popeye so strong?

Caption: Make your kids’ meals appealing to the eye.
Alt-text: A slice of bread with dog face.

You can also make it fun by teaching them that a colorful plate is the healthiest way to make meals, so they’ll have fun incorporating varieties of colorful, healthy food into their dish. Lastly, eat as a family. Instead of turning your dinner into a lecture, turn it into enjoyable family time: play some music, let them invite a friend over, choose some silly games to play. Engaging your children’s imagination and repositioning veggies and meals as entertaining and enjoyable is the best way of teaching your kids to eat healthy.

Images used:


Sally Norton
April 16, 2021 | Children's Fitness | 0

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