As parents, I think we can agree that when it comes to encouraging kids to make healthy choices, it’s not an easy task. So what’s a parent to do?
It begins by creating healthy choices without being too obvious about it. After all, for many kids, if you say the word healthy, they’ll turn up their nose in disgust! It isn’t uncommon for kids to push aside healthy options for the “fun” food, which is heavily promoted through television.
“If I don’t buy the food they like, they won’t eat anything!” is a common myth among parents. The reality is if they get hungry enough, they will eat. You have never heard of a child starving to death because his mother refused to feed him junk food, have you?
Children will choose to eat healthy food. It’s a process that takes time and creativity. There are plenty of healthy foods that your kids can learn to enjoy. It’s simply a matter of making gradual changes and allowing their taste buds to adjust to the changes. Kids are used to eating foods high sodium and fat and need to adjust to eating new healthier foods. This process takes a while. Making small changes to the normal routine is key.
Follow these tips to help your child make healthy choices that will last a lifetime.
1) Have healthy foods ready and easy to grab in the kitchen.
Stock your kitchen with fruits, vegetables, complex starches, yogurt, and lean protein. By default, you are changing your child’s food choices simply because you are limiting the availability of junk food and increasing the availability of healthy foods.
Kids need an after school snack. I remember my Mom always having pre-portioned snacks ready for us and as kids my sister and I always looked forward to our after school snack of the day, it was a treat and a way for our family to bond. Try having these healthy and easy snacks ready for your kids. A smoothie with yogurt and fruit, baked tortilla chips and salsa, sliced apple with peanut butter, string cheese and crackers, yogurt with granola or salt-less pretzels with peanuts.
2) Put your kids in charge of packing their own lunch.
Make a rule that when your kid enters 5th grade they are responsible for making their own lunch and can pack anything they want as long as they pack food from all of the food groups.
This was the strategy that my Mother used. By the time my sister and I were in the 5th grade the anticipation of “being in charge” of our own lunch made us really want to do it. It was a win-win because we felt grown-up and Mom didn’t have to pack lunch!
3) Involve your children in making the grocery-shopping list.
Explain that they are allowed to choose one “treat” and besides that, they have to choose their fruit, yogurt, bread, cereal, and type of lunchmeat they want. And they can use these foods to pack their own lunch!
On the refrigerator, we always had a pad of paper with the grocery list. I remember being able to write down one treat I wanted every week as well as what flavored yogurt, lunchmeat, and fruit that I wanted for my school lunch. I was given the responsibility of making food decisions for myself, which definitely helped me develop into a responsible adult.
4) Make physical activity a part of your family routine
Be active yourself and share your activity with your kids. You can play with them, such as football, cycling, skating, and swimming or take family walks and hikes. Being more active as a family will improve physical and emotional health. Help your kids to find activities that they enjoy by showing them different possibilities.
During the summer it was a tradition for my family to go for a bike ride every Friday night after dinner. We would sing songs and plan games together; sometimes we would be having so much fun that we would be out riding until 11 pm. I also remember my parents using it as a disciplinary tactic, if we didn’t clean our rooms that week we would not be able to ride out the bike in the street with them.
5) Have your entire family take part in preparing/planning family meals.
The more your kids can participate in family meals, the better choices they will be willing to make. Healthy eating is a family project and everyone should get involved. You can begin by choosing one night a week where the entire family can come together and prepare and eat together.
Before our bike rides on Friday we would have a family dinner night. Often the meal of choice was pizza. Together we would make a homemade pizza with pepperoni and vegetables that we would strategically place on the pizza. Sometimes we would create a model of our house, we each were able to make our bedrooms and come together as a family to the living room and kitchen.