Ways to Help Your Kids Eat Healthier
Want to help your kids eat healthier without turning mealtimes into a battleground? Don’t we all? These 10 helpful and practical tips can be easily implemented without too much effort and can reap fantastic rewards with perseverance.
1. Model Healthy Eating.
Regardless of the child’s age the most important action you can take to help children eat healthier is to eat healthier yourself.
2. Eat Together.
As we are now in an age where single parenting and two parent working families are often the norm, plus our children have lots of extracurricular activities they are doing. Overall our lifestyles and hectic and family meals are slowly on the decline. The bottom line is that family meals are generally more nutritious plus eating together also offers an opportunity to socialise about food and eating and to model healthy eating and behaviour. Even if you aim for only cooking and planning family meals twice into a weekly routine this certainly helps kids to develop healthier eating habits. It is also great to involve them in the food shopping routine too and explain why you are buying certain items and the benefits of eating these foods.
3. Increase exposure to Healthy Foods.
Any children that are continually exposed to different healthy foods will overall make healthier choices. One of the best ways that parents can help their children develop healthy eating habits is to repeatedly expose them to a wide variety of foods. Often kids may not accept the food on the first try, but with repeated attempts and as they become familiar with the the food, they will become more likely to develop a preference for it. Children that are exposed to a sweet, salty or plain version of a new food showed that they started to prefer food that became most familiar to them (even the plain version). They also showed less preference for the other versions even though children have a preference for sweet tastes. Just because a child won’t eat a food once, do not label it “rejected.” Instead, continue to reintroduce it and it may take up to 15 times before the child will accept it (in other words don’t give up!)
4. Let Them Choose the Portion Size.
Adults can empower their kids to let their internal cues of hunger and fullness guide how much
they eat by allowing them to choose their own portion sizes. Adults are bad at guessing how much food a child should eat.
They typically offer too-big portion sizes and then require kids to “clean their plates.” This scenario sets the stage for overeating. In one American study, researchers offered preschool-aged children two plates of food: one with an age-appropriate portion and another with double the amount of food. The children ate about two-thirds of the food from the age-appropriate portion size. They ate 25 percent to 29 percent more food when offered the larger portion size. Also, they did not even notice the increases in the portion size when given the larger
serving. So similar to adults, kids will eat more food when portion sizes are big and when adults force them to finish these oversized portions, children learn to override their internal
hunger cues and develop a tendency for overeating. On the other hand, several studies have shown that when kids are allowed to choose their own portions, they tend to choose appropriate portion sizes and they eat less versus when adults decide how much they should get.
5. Share The Control.
Several studies have shown that when a child is allowed to self-regulate food intake, free of any adult pressure or influence, total caloric intake and nutritional value differ only minimally from day to day. On the other hand, encouraging kids to eat by focusing on the amount of food left on the plate promotes more food intake and makes children less able to self-regulate caloric intake. Further studies show that requiring a child to consume a particular food to receive a “reward” such as a dessert, led to increased dislike of the food the child was required to eat and increased liking of the typically unhealthy “reward” food. Higher levels of parental control and pressure to eat are associated with lower fruit and vegetable intake and higher intake of dietary fat.
6. Refuse to be a short order Cook.
Picky eaters can cause havoc on an enjoyable family meal, forcing some parents to make special meals for each child just so everyone will have something that they will eat. You can promote healthier eating by refusing to accommodate special requests, while at the same time making sure to serve at least one healthy food that the child likes at each mealtime.
You are responsible for the types of food that are offered and children are responsible for deciding whether or not to consume those foods and how much to eat. If your child refuses what is offered, do not offer them something else. Instead allow them to access to the meal later should they become hungry. This may seem too tough and many parents worry that your child will go hungry, but by consistently following this rule, you will go a long way toward helping your child or children to develop a taste for previously rejected foods.
7. Limit television Time.
While television viewing has been associated with a variety of negative behaviors including poor school performance and childhood obesity, it is also linked to overall worse nutrition.
This may largely be due to the enormous amount of advertising for unhealthy foods such as sugary breakfast cereals, soft drinks, salty snack products and highly processed and fast foods. Research has shown that exposure to advertisements for food products increases children’s choice of, and preference for, these advertised foods.
8. Exploit Similarities
It is a good idea to look at similarities and develop a taste preference for new foods.
Once a food is accepted, find similarly colored or flavored “food bridges” to expand the variety of foods a child will eat. For example, if a child likes pumpkin, try mashed sweet potatoes, and then mashed carrots.
9. Make Eating Healthy Fun!
Despite its accompanying demands and stresses, parenting is supposed to be fun. Adults can make learning about healthy nutrition and physical activity fun and educational. For example, what better way to teach a child about plants and the importance of eating them than having his or her own small garden? Families can grow the plants and then show the child how to use the produce in delicious recipes. Or take your children to a farmer’s market and let them pick out a new vegetable or fruit to try at home. Whatever it is, try to take a break from the mealtime battles and take advantage of a child’s curiosity and help teach them a lesson about health and fitness.
10. Skip the Food Fights
A survey published by the American Dietetic Association showed that the number one eating concerns of mothers are that their children do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. Recognizing the powerful health-promoting benefits of these nutrient powerhouses, parents insist that their children eat their vegetables. The alternative, they fear, is that their
children will be unhealthy and malnourished. The truth is that the more parents pressure their children to eat certain foods, the less likely they will be to develop a taste for them and continue to eat them often as an adult. In fact, several research studies have shown
that encouraging children to consume a particular food increases their dislike for that food. Kids instinctively resist persuasion. If you want your kids to eat vegetables and other healthy foods employ different strategies – increasing accessibility and exposure, minimising the competition, modeling, vowing to not say anything when they refuse food, and helping make food taste good, for starters. So, the most successful healthy eating families are the ones that skip the food fights.
Leanne Sklavenitis has been extensively involved in the Fitness industry in not only Australia but also the USA for over 20 years as an Online Fitness Expert, Group Fitness instructor / Personal Trainer and Speaker running a successful online home based fitness business.
She has won the Aquatic and Recreation Victoria Group Exercise Instructor of the Year Award, the YMCA Group Fitness Instructor of the Year Award, has presented to 5000 delegates in Singapore, spoken to numerous corporate organisations and presented at conferences. She has also been interviewed in Fitness Instructor editorials and written fitness articles for magazines.
Leanne currently runs her own Online Health & Fitness Motivation Business where she provides the latest health and fitness motivation and helps to motivate fitness clients “online” no matter where they live. She has recently launched a new health and fitness membership site which contains all the information you need to know about creating the healthy lifestyle you deserve.