There are a lot of challenges that come with raising kids. One of the biggest ones is making sure your children grow up understanding the importance of good health. Of course, when they’re young, your kids will see no problem with the thought of living off chocolate and fizzy drinks. By the time they reach their twenties, they may find it hard to wean themselves off of some of the unhealthy habits in their past. I’m sure you don’t want this for your children, so read on! Here, I’ve scoured dozens of sources on nutrition, and brought together some of the best tactics for raising healthy eaters.
The first thing I can suggest won’t necessarily improve your children’s health. However, it will certainly have this effect further down the line. Structure your meals a little more! This is a common problem which a lot of modern families are caught up in. With family members’ different schedules and needs, it’s common for parents to forget about structured meals, and graze at little bits and pieces through the day. While this may be a little more convenient, it’s not doing your kids any favours in terms of healthy eating. When a family has regular, structured mealtimes, this will help the child crave food less often, and regulate the amount they eat. With a total lack of structure, children will be more inclined to skip meals and snack excessively in the meantime. Check out It’s Not About Nutrition for a feature on this. If these habits are driven in too much, your kids will be at risk of putting on weight very quickly. It may mean more work in the kitchen, but structured mealtimes are one of the first things you should do to raise healthy eaters.
Eating together as a family every day is one of the best habits to instill in your children if you want them to be healthy eaters. However, if your kids are used to a far more unstructured way of doing things, then you might be met with some resistance. This is pretty natural. Your kids may not liken the concentration of veggies on their plate, or the fact that they actually have to sit at the table. I advise you to be firm, but not too pushy when it comes to their actual eating. Generally, you should be taking charge of what your kids eat, and when and where this happens. However, when it comes to whether and how much to eat, leave that to your kids. As long as it never reaches the point of malnutrition, this can be a really beneficial thing for your kids. Giving them a little more freedom as to what they eat will help develop moderation. At the very least it will grind down some of the hostility all toddlers seem to have for healthy foods. Stop bribing your kids with desserts, and don’t say they can leave after (x) many more bites. At the same time, don’t be a short-order cook in between your family’s set meal times.
One common tactic which some people use to encourage healthy eating is turning mealtimes into a mini buffet. Your family might already run things like this; if so, keep it up! Here, I’m talking about putting out the food in a few large bowls with serving utensils, and letting everyone take the things they want. I know this ties in with my last point pretty closely, but this specific way of serving meals has a couple of more advantages. When your kids are picking the food themselves, they’ll become used to reaching for healthier foods, and making their own decisions about what to eat. Furthermore, it will cut down on your children taking a large chunk out of one baked potato and then leaving the rest. Instead, at the end of a meal, you can just put plates over whatever’s left and pop them in the fridge. Again, this whole process will encourage your kids to set their own limits as to how much they eat.
When you’re trying to create a healthy diet, whether for a child or an adult, it’s always important to make variety a priority. If the current scheme of things isn’t giving your children all they need to grow healthily, then start changing this bit by bit. Slowly add dishes to your family meals which are rich in their variety of food groups. Proteins, vegetables, fruits, dairy, grains and fat should all be included. Of course, if your household is vegetarian or vegan, you can always find substitutes for eggs, dairy and so forth. We’re now seeing an increasing amount of Hampton Creek products and other vegan produce hitting the stores. The emphasis on variety shouldn’t just stop at mealtimes though. Nutritionists recommend that you try to span a few different food groups when it comes to snacking as well. This will not only ensure your children’s bodies are getting all the nutrients they need, but also encourage them to eat more healthy foods. When there’s more choice on offer, your kids will feel more interested in making their plates more varied.
If you want to encourage your children to be healthier eaters from now on, then it may be time to change how you regulate sweets and desserts. A lot of parents use these kinds of treats as a miracle cure for misbehaviour. When a child’s naughty, you take away their sweets. When they’re well behaved, you give them out as a reward. If you stick to this one way of doing things, then you could in fact end up making them even more desirable to kids. I’m sure you can remember being a kid, and wanting something simply because you couldn’t have it! Although incentivising your kids with sweets can certainly be useful, it’s not a good decision in the long run. Instead, keep desserts and sweet things to a healthy level. Wherever you can, try to teach your children why it’s so important to keep sweets and desserts to a minimum.
Exposing your kids to food in general can also be helpful for making them more inclined towards healthy eating. Children learn about anything better through hands-on experience, rather than having their ear talked off. Try and take them along with you to supermarkets, farmer’s markets, and get them involved with preparing meals. This last one can get pretty frustrating if they make any big mistakes. However, if you have them stick to one simple job you shouldn’t run into too many problems. You’ll not only be teaching them to cook for themselves early on, but the more intimate exposure to healthy eating will encourage it through later life. Just make sure to keep on mentioning why you’re choosing this or that vegetable, and what it does for our bodies. children are going to learn about nutrition passively simply by seeing the meals you serve and comparing them to food from other places. However, if they don’t learn about the whole purpose of healthy eating, they might just interpret it as you being a hard parent! Explain how calcium makes their bones stronger, how various vitamins help their brains to develop, and so on.
As your kids grow older and start having more control over what they eat, teach them to get in-tune with their bodies. Contrary to what some people think, eating when you feel hungry is a good thing. When you use how hungry or full you feel as a guide for eating, you’ll not only have a lower body mass index, but will be at less of a risk of disordered eating. When your children hit their teenage years, they’ll be more inclined to binge eat or starve themselves with extreme diets. You wouldn’t think it, but children at a healthy weight usually report being pushed to eat more. Over or underweight children, on the other hand, are more used to being restricted by their parents. In this day of obesity and diabetes, it’s easy to become hostile to our cravings. Just remember that our stomachs growl for a reason!
One final tip is more for yourself than your kids. Embrace cooking, no matter how hard it may be! From the way I go on, you’d think I was some kind of domestic genius. While I certainly know my way around a kitchen, it wasn’t always that way! However, with a little self-discipline I stopped leaning on takeaways, and started making a wider variety of dishes for my kids. If you force yourself to don the chef’s hat, and grit your teeth through cooking vegetables you’ve never heard of, things will get easier. Whether you like it or not, you’re the provider, so try to embrace this role. The more healthy and varied meals you make, the more naturally they’ll come.
I hope this guide has helped you turn things around in your home, and raise kids who care about their health as much as you do. When the tantrums flare up and you make disasters of a new recipe, just keep reminding yourself what you’re working towards. Good luck!
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