Guest Blog: How to Promote Healthy Eating Habits in Young Children
May 28, 2013
Whether it’s school starting early, having a hectic work schedule, trying to get the kids to afterschool activities or constantly being on the go on the weekends, it can be difficult to instill healthy eating habits in your children. Because of this, drive-thru’s and convenience stores can end up being a mom’s best friend. However, feeding your children meals and snacks from these places sends a strong, unhealthy and sometimes dangerous message.
Commit to three meals at home together a week. The importance of eating meals together as a family cannot be underestimated. Having dinner at the table together helps build bonds that are centered on the very essence of family. Children naturally want to be with their family, and they will have positive memories of this experience. When you partner this family meal with healthy food choices, your child will be more likely to continue to make healthy choices because it subconsciously reminds her of the family connection.
Try new foods together as a family. Young children are notoriously picky eaters. They tend to find a food they enjoy and want nothing else. They frequently refuse to eat foods that look, smell or feel different than what they are used to. Even mac and cheese made from a different box can cause a child to run screaming. To help curtail this pickiness, it is important to experiment with new foods as a family. Remember that it can take a child several months to get used to a new food. If it is a particularly offensive food, start with just putting a portion on his plate every day for a week. Next, you can encourage her to feel it with her fingers and even with her tongue when she is comfortable. This does not mean she has to swallow it, she just needs to put it in her mouth every day for a week so she can get used to the texture. Slowly she will begin to get more comfortable with it, and eventually you can ask her to swallow one bite. Children with high sensitivities to new foods may take up to a month before they’re comfortable trying the food, but other children will learn to eat it after a few days. The important thing is that you eat that new food right alongside your child.
All family members eat the same thing. Avoid making special meals for your child if she does not like what she has. You can offer some extra of what she likes after she has tried the disliked food, but don’t make her mac and cheese just because you know she does not like meatloaf.
Prepare ahead of time for the whole week. It is pretty easy to pre-make a lot of foods, from sandwiches and scrambled eggs to cut up veggies and baggies of grapes. If you have time on the weekend, assemble sandwiches that your child can take for lunch for the whole week and keep them in the fridge so you can just grab them in the morning and go. You can portion out some cut up veggies and fruit in bags too so they’re easily accessible in the mornings. You can even bake scrambled eggs ahead of time; this way your children can have a healthy breakfast, even on school days when time is limited. Bake them in muffin tins for the whole week and then freeze them. In the morning, microwave them for a minute or two, add a banana and you have a healthy school morning breakfast!
Invest in on-the-go containers and foods. There is nothing wrong with needing to eat on the go. The extra 10 minutes it might save you in the morning or after school can make a huge difference. The problem is that “on-the-go” usually means fast food. This can be avoided by investing in containers and healthy foods that travel well.
Do not neglect eating a healthy breakfast. For many adults and children, breakfast is an afterthought. Most of the time, people aren’t really that hungry when they have to wake up early in the morning. However, neglecting this meal has effects that last throughout the day. A child’s breakfast often consists of high carbohydrate cereals or sugary toaster meals with little to no protein. This causes a spike of energy to get out the door, but also causes blood sugar to drop quickly 30 minutes into the school day. Even young children do not have snack time until about an hour and half into class, so they are likely attempting to learn while their body and brain are hungry for more nourishment. This will often cause your child to be sluggish, easily distracted and unable to listen well. It might also cause her to reach for higher carb, sugary foods to satisfy her until lunch. Then at lunch she is more likely to start with the carbohydrate in the meal, and the cycle goes on and one. Do your children a favor and make a healthy protein filled breakfast a priority. You will be amazed at the difference in her behavior and her focus, all from eating a healthy meal at the beginning of the day.
Children will always gravitate toward sweet and salty treats. However, the more their parents model what healthy eating looks like, the more likely they will only crave those treats once in a while.