Eat your vegetables. Clean your plate. For generations, parents have used those phrases to teach kids about healthy foods. Today, it may take more to get the message across. Kids see and hear countless, highly persuasive ads for high-sugar, high-salt, and high-fat food with little nutritional value. Here’s how to get through to kids with a healthy message about making good food choices.
Teach kids which foods are healthy–and why. You’ll find a great tool with the Food Pyramid for Kids developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A colorful guide to healthy foods, the pyramid contains specific information for various age groups. Visit mypyramid.gov to learn more.
Get kids involved. Encourage them to help make your shopping list. Explain why the list has more of some foods, like fruits and vegetables, and fewer foods that are high in sugar or fats. Use the food pyramid to emphasize the importance of making low-fat food choices; of choosing lean meat or fish over red, fatty cuts; and of picking up plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Make trips the grocery store a learning experience. When kids ask for a certain food, ask them to decide if the food counts as a healthy choice or not.
If your kids ask, allow some “junk foods” in their diet. When kids eat a healthy diet, a daily sweet or salty snack does no harm. Keep some fruits available as a healthier alternative, but let the children decide.
It takes a good role model to teach kids about healthy foods. Adopt–or keep up–healthful eating habits. Avoid snack foods and sugary treats–at least when the kids are around.
Make healthy eating a family affair. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) recommends having family or group dinners at least once or twice a week. Research shows that children who eat with their family tend to have a healthier diet.
Plan a colorful diet. Kids often prefer what the ADA calls the Great American White Food Diet: white bread, potatoes, macaroni and milk. If that’s the case, provide some of these foods–but add colorful choices, too. These can include other grains and red, orange and green vegetables and fruits.
Avoid make healthy eating a contest of wills. Instead of insisting that a child eat one food he or she hates, offer a range of healthy choices. When kids refuse to eat or waste certain foods–try to stay patient. Don’t lose your temper.
Stay the course. It can take time to teach children healthy eating habits.