Getting children to eat healthy can be a difficult task for parents, especially with a picky eater or one who is sensitive to particular food textures. We want to set our children up to be healthy eaters as they get older and are learning to make healthy food decisions. Here are seven simple ways that parents can start their children off on the right foot when it comes to their health and making food choices.
1. Constantly introduce new foods: Even if they tried a food once and didn’t like it, that doesn’t mean they are doomed to hate it forever. Try new foods one at a time and wait a few days to make sure there are no allergies. If they don't like a food, try it again in a few months. Give them a chance to get used to foods that may be a little bit different than they are used to.
2. Try preparing foods differently: It is possible that your child just didn’t like a food the way it was prepared. Give her a chance to try it again; make mashed potatoes instead of baked potatoes, or give her raw vegetables instead of cooked. If she still doesn’t like something, at least you tried, and you can re-introduce again at a later time.
3. Be a positive example: If your child sees you eating something healthy, chances are, he will give it a try too. This is a great teaching moment for kids; explain to him that there are things that moms and dads don’t like to eat, but that you keep trying them because they are good for your body.
4. Hide vegetables in preferred dishes: This trick could keep her from hiding vegetables in her napkin. Although parents want their children to eat healthy foods on their own, there is another way to ensure that she is getting the nutrition that she needs until she obtains a more sophisticated palate. The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies For Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals by Missy Chase Lapine is a New York Times Bestselling book that shares recipes for dishes that kids love, like macaroni and cheese, burgers, and spaghetti, only these dishes have vegetables hidden inside. Another way to help your child get nutrients from fruits and vegetables that they would not otherwise get is through juicing. This also cuts out the added sugar present in other juices.
5. Everything in moderation: It is a pretty good rule of thumb when it comes to what you let your kids eat. If you are feeding them a balanced diet full of nutritious foods (fruits, veggies, protein, and fiber) most of the time, you won’t feel so bad allowing them to have treats from time to time. Teaching them that they can have that candy bar or bag of potato chips once in awhile but that the healthy stuff is what they should be eating on a regular basis.
6. Don’t force it: Forcing your kids to eat and getting into a power struggle over food can cause problems down the line that could be as serious as eating disorders (in extreme cases). Many parents worry that their children aren’t eating enough because they aren’t hungry or don’t like what is being served. However, most pediatricians would agree that a child will eat when she is hungry. When it comes to serving non-preferred foods to young children, in many cases vegetables, ask them to eat one piece for every year of their age (four peas for your four-year-old.) That way they learn that it is important to eat healthy foods for nutrition, but mom and dad are also validating the fact that they don’t like something. This is also a great lesson in compromise.
7. Have your child help with meal preparation: Chances are a child will want to eat a meal that he helped to prepare. Depending on his age, he can help with many aspects of meal preparation; from reading the recipe steps, to gathering the ingredients, to mixing and chopping foods. Most kids love to be helpers, and there is no better way to help them be healthy eaters in the future, then involving them in the process when they are young.