As a mum, it’s really important to me that my children develop healthy food habits and grow into adults who know how to feed themselves well. Although this may seems easy at first once the children come along and we begin the journey of starting solid food, you’ll know that getting children eating the right kind of food can be very hard work.
A healthy attitude toward food and a strong desire to make changes is vital if you are to be successful in seeing your children begin to eat and enjoy more nutritious food. Always keep in the back of your mind that healthy habits are for life. Never give up, your hard work will pay dividends in the future.
Here are some pointers, tips and advice for fostering a household that encourages healthy habits amongst it’s members.
1. Model healthy eating habits
It’s a no brainer that children learn about life from us, their parents. The research is very clear that children’s eating habits closely mimic those of their parents, so the first step is conducting an overhaul of your own lifestyle when it comes to your relationship with food. Do you emotionally eat? Are you prone to skipping meals and then overeating at the next meal? Do you snack out of boredom? Does dinner consist of quick easy convenience food every single night because you’re busy? Do you eat in front of the television? Are soft drinks regularly on offer with meal times?
Whether you like it or not our children watch these behaviours very closely and childhood eating habits are very hard to shift come adulthood. The research shows that a parent who consistently and regularly eats and enjoys (note the key word here – enjoy) vegetables can cause their children to start eating and enjoying vegetables too, in as little as 2 weeks.
2. Turn off the TV
One of the first things that I ask mums who are having trouble with their children eating well is this: “Is the TV on?”. “Yes”, they answer, “but we’re not watching it, it’s just on in the background”. It may be just white noise to you, but not to toddlers and small children. They are highly wired, sensory little beings and this can be a major distraction for them during meal times. It’s one of the biggest mistakes that I made whilst trying to introduce solids to my daughter. I may not have been aware of the TV on in the background but she certainly was, even as a 6 month old. From that moment on, the TV was off and always off during meal times and my children are really good, focussed little eaters.
The Australian Physical Activity Guidelines recommends limiting total screen time (TV, computer, iPod touch, DS etc) to no more than 60 minutes a day for good health and the encouragement of healthy lifestyle habits. Eating whilst watching TV also foster’s mindless eating. This is where one eats whilst doing other things and can be completely unaware of what or how much they are consuming. It’s a major contributor to overeating or boredom eating.
3. Keep ‘junk’ food out of sight
Making healthy food the only option available and keeping ‘junk’ food out of site is a great way to foster a genuine love for healthy foods in your children. If you ask me, junk food should never even be in the house, except for special occasions. Why? Because if it’s there it will get eaten. I don’t regularly buy ‘junk’ food, because I would eat it… and I know it’s also not good for my children either. If you’d prefer your children to snack on fruit, vegetable sticks, yoghurt, wholegrain crackers and other healthy snacks, you’ll find it really difficult if they know that you’ve got chocolate biscuits in the pantry… Humans have an innate preference for sweet things and children don’t have the mental capacity to make ‘healthy’ choices, they’ll always go for the sweet option. This is where you come in. As the parent who knows what foods are best for your children only make healthy food available to eat and if you’re diligent and consistent, this is what your children will regularly eat.
4. Encourage taste testing
Taste testing is a really fun and exciting way of getting your kids to try new foods. Always make it fun for them, rather than stressful and negative and you’ll have budding little foodies before you know it! My goal with any new foods is to just get my toddlers to taste it. They don’t have to eat it, I just want them to at least give it a try. I sing songs, play games, make car and animal noises… the works! The majority of the time they end up liking it and finishing the meal. If they don’t, that’s OK, I don’t make a fuss. I’ll just try again in a day or 2. Never, ever give up.
5. Get them involved in the food preparation
Teaching our children, both daughters and sons, how to buy, store, prepare and cook is vital to their success as healthy eaters. Every meal time is an opportunity to get them in the kitchen with you, showing them how to chop up vegetables, cook them and turn them into a tasty meal. Take them shopping (when you have the time and patience) and show them how to pick fresh produce, how to read a nutrition label (for older kids) and display a positive attitude around fresh healthy food. If you don’t know about these things, try a cooking class, read a good cookbook and just practice and experiment. You can also subscribe to my nutrition blog. It’s free, with a weekly article on healthy eating and exercise advice to get your motivated and inspired to change your life.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on creating an environment that encourages healthy eating? What do you do in your family?
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