Raising children in a healthy manner can seem an impossible task in our World today. Due to the increasing number of fast food restaurants and not-so-experienced babysitters, this responsibility has become a nightmare. It can be difficult to keep an eye on your children 24/7 since there are other things, such as work, that you need to focus on too. However, you must never forget that the health and safety of your children must be your first priority. This does not mean that you have to run behind them with a hand sanitiser at all times. There are simple yet effective methods that will enable you to achieve this goal.
Whether you have a toddler or a teen, I hope the below suggestions will help to encourage healthy eating within your children’s daily routine;
Have regular family meals – I remember when I was growing up our family meals were very much like a daily ritual. It is a family time when the meals are a comforting routine for both parents and children. Children like the predictability of a family meal and parents get a chance to catch up with their children. Children who take part in regular family meals are also more likely to eat fruits, vegetables, and grains and less likely to snack on unhealthy foods. I never used to question what I was eating as this was all that was available at the meal time and we all ate the same!
Family meals are also a chance for parents to introduce children to new foods and to be role models for healthy eating. We as parents need to remember to serve a variety of healthy foods and snacks. With my own young toddler I have noticed how he will try all different types of food if he sees both me and his daddy eating them.
Be a role model by eating healthy yourself – Children will follow the lead of the adults they see every day. By eating fruits and vegetables and not overindulging in the less nutritious foods, you’ll be sending the right message.
Another way to be a good role model is to serve appropriate portions and not overeat. Talk about your feelings of fullness, especially with younger children. I often say to my little one, “This is delicious, but I’m full, so I’m going to stop eating.” Similarly, parents who are always dieting or complaining about their bodies may foster these same negative feelings in their children. Try to keep a positive approach about food.
Try to avoid battles over food – Children should decide if they are hungry, what they will eat from the foods served, and when they are full. The Parent should control which foods are available to their children, both at mealtimes and between meals. Here are some guidelines to follow:
Establish a predictable schedule of meals and snacks. It’s OK to choose not to eat when both parents and children know when to expect the next meal or snack.
Don’t force children to clean their plates. Doing so teaches children to override feelings of fullness.
Don’t bribe or reward children with food. Avoid using dessert as the prize for eating the meal.
Don’t use food as a way of showing love. When you want to show love, give children a hug, some of your time, or praise.
Involve children in the process of choosing meals, even helping with the cooking – Most children will enjoy deciding what to make for dinner or lunch. Talk to them about making choices and planning a balanced meal. Some might even want to help shop for ingredients and prepare the meal. At the shop, teach children to name the foods whether it is fruits and vegetables, pastas or meat. For young children they will enjoy naming the different foods, I often question my little one on the colours of each food, especially in the fruit and vegetable section.
In the kitchen, select age-appropriate tasks so children can play a part without getting injured or feeling overwhelmed. And at the end of the meal, don’t forget to praise the chef!!!
Of course, eating well can be hard — family schedules are hectic and grab-and-go convenience food is readily available. But hopefully my tips can help your busy households and make Healthy Eating for children a happier and easier topic.
All the Best!
Helen Taylor Shaw
Principal, Ladybird JVC