Getting children to eat healthy meals can be one of the most challenging parts of any parent’s day. Nonetheless, teaching children to eat healthy is more important now than ever before. In January 2007, the surgeon general issued a call to action to help combat childhood obesity and encourage healthy eating habits in children. The question remains, how do you teach children to eat healthy?
Ultimately, the best way to teach children to eat healthy is to model healthy eating habits through personal actions and behaviors. This helps your children get into the habit of eating healthy their entire lives.
Introduce healthy foods into the house. It is nearly impossible for a child to learn healthy eating habits when they are never exposed to healthy foods. Provide fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and healthy dairy options that are easily prepared and eaten. The more children are exposed to healthy foods, the more they will enjoy them.
Eat healthy yourself. Children will resent being forced to eat a healthy meal when their parents refuse to do the same. If you choose to eat healthy, then your children will not question their own healthy diet.
Avoid fast food restaurants. While not all fast food meals are unhealthy, it is simply a habit that no child needs to develop. If you model restraint and self-control, your children are likely to pick-up on these behaviors as well.
Get the children in the kitchen. While it is well and good to provide healthy alternatives to junk food, it is not always easy to get kids to eat these healthy foods. However, dietician Elaine Magee says that when a child takes part in creating their own meals, they will almost always eat their own creation. Children as young as 2 can take part in creating healthy pizzas, salad and fruit kebabs. Additionally, time in the kitchen offers a great opportunity to discuss the nutrition of the foods you cook with. Cooking together also teaches children to eat healthy once they leave the nest and must cook for themselves.
Do not put your personal hang-ups onto food. While you may think lima beans are disgusting, there is no reason to relentlessly insult the vegetable. Occasionally, the healthy foods that parents hate most reveal themselves to be the only healthy foods children will eat. Acting like a certain healthy food is disgusting may prevent a child from eating a healthy food they may have otherwise loved.
Discuss the effects of healthy eating. Even very young children can appreciate that healthy food makes a person grow stronger and taller. Older children will enjoy learning that eating healthy can give them more energy for sports, dance, school or any other activity they are involved in.
Avoid a lot of discussion of foods making a person fat. Occasionally, teenagers will grow fearful of gaining weight, which can manifest into an eating disorder. Focus on the benefits of healthy foods as much as possible.