While I can’t guarantee instant success, here are five recommendations to help you instill healthy eating habits in your children and other family members.
1. Eat together as a family
According to Dr. Tamara Sheffield from Healthcare’s LiVe Well Campaign, “Studies confirm that children who eat regular meals with their parents are more likely to get enough nutrients in their daily diet, maintain a healthy weight, and do well in school. In fact, these kids tend to stay way from cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs and are generally more happy and positive about their future.” Another benefit of family meal times is that children observe parents and other family example can foster a child’s willingness to consume a more varied diet in the future or even try those foods today.
2. Serve a variety of foods
Especially fruits and vegetables. The new MyPlate guideline encourages everyone to fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables. However, if the only vegetable served at dinner s steamed broccoli – and your child isn’t very fond of broccoli – the chances of them following that guideline are slim. Eating a half-a-plate of steamed broccoli isn’t typically an exciting venture for anyone! I have found more success in following this guideline by serving a greater variety of fruits and vegetables at meals. If you serve steamed broccoli, raw carrot sticks, and apple slices at dinner, it is more likely that your child will eat more fruits and vegetables at that meal.
3. Avoid open pantry
By scheduling meals and snacks. Haveyou ever prepared a meal only to find that your child eats a miniscule amount of what is served? A child’s appetite can naturally wax and wane, but an “open pantry” may be the culprit of a decreased appetite at mealtime. Structured meals and snacks allow you, as their parent, to encourage healthier eating. Serve well-rounded meals and, as a family, determine when snacks will be offered. Offering regular snacks will relieve some of the anxiety you might experience when your child does not eat well at mealtime. If your children refuse to eat the variety of foods prepared for the meal, you can honor that refusal without creating a food battle at the table because you know they will have the opportunity to eat a nutritious snack in a few hours. As with most parenting methods, consistency is the key to making this recommendation work.
4. Cook at home more often
Home prepared meals provide the opportunity to control the amount of fat, sugar, and salt in the foods consumed by your family. Look at your schedule for the week and determine which days you have time to prepare food at home. If possible, cook ahead for days where time is limited. Give children age-appropriate tasks in the kitchen. Assisting with food preparation (and even growing food) not only teaches your child valuable skills, it gives them a sense of ownershipin he food and will invite them to be more adventurous in their eating.
5. Allow Children some control
As parents, we often find ourselves in the role of the “enforcer” – particularly when it comes to eating vegetables. More often than not, however, this simply leads to food battles that are unpleasant for everyone. To minimize tension over your child’s eating, divide the responsibility between you and your child. As a parent, you are responsible to provide healthy foods for your child to eat. You are also responsible for determining consistent scheduled meal and snack times so that your child knows when he can expect to eat next. Your child’s responsibility is to determine how much they eat based on their current level of hunger. Your child can also be given the responsibility to determine what they eat from the options presented – though some gentle guidelines such as “you must choose and taste at least one fruit or vegetable” are certainly appropriate.
Every child’s eating habits are different. While the recommendations I provided have proven effective with many children. I understand that there may be complicating factors that affect your child’s eating habits and health. If you would like to discuss your child’s individual eating needs, I encourage you to visit with a Registered Dietitian for more individualized recommendations.