When food fights occupy your meal times, it’s time for parents to take the helm. By now, many parents know that cajoling, threatening or bribing won’t work when it comes to influencing children’s food choices. Much of the time, children who might be termed “picky eaters” have an actual fear of trying new foods. A parent might consider that when a child says they don’t like a food even before they have tried it, it usually means they are simply unfamiliar with it. Even when your child claims to like only the usual suspects –pizza, chicken nuggets and fries– there are ways to instill a love for healthy food. Once established, healthy eating habits will follow them into adulthood. While many adults could also use a lesson in healthy eating, we are our children’s first role models. If we want to raise a household of healthy eaters, we must first practice what we preach, as eating habits are learned behaviors.
Combine these tips with variety, moderation, balance and the power to choose to ensure both you and your child are on the way to meeting your nutritional goals.
- Take the time to shop with the kids and prepare food at home. Sure, you can stock your pantry and refrigerator with processed foods that are quick and easy to prepare but many are packed with added sugars, chemicals, preservatives, sodium and additives and contain little or no nutritional value. Get kids interested in a variety of foods by exploring the perimeter of the grocery store and have them choose something along the lines of a new or a tried and true vegetable or fruit, a yogurt flavor or something healthy that looks interesting to them.
- Once at home, when time permits, allow the kids to help prepare the meal. Provide support and encouragement and give them tasks they can complete themselves, such as peeling carrots or shelling peas. Children are more likely to eat the food they have proudly helped to prepare. As often as possible, set a priority to have everyone sit down to dinner together. Take the opportunity to talk about your day and enjoy that time together as a family. Eating as a family sets a positive mood that transfers to a positive attitude towards food.
- Try to avoid nagging and cajoling to get kids to eat their vegetables. Telling them it’s good for them is not necessarily the best approach when they haven’t yet tried the food. Instead, suggest they try a bite and in a positive way tell them how delicious it tastes. Be patient. Learning to like food is a process, so you may have to serve a food a half dozen times or more before a child tries it and decides he likes it. Once that happens, you can tell them why it’s a healthy choice. Remember, the key is not just getting the kids to eat healthy food but teaching the kids to like healthy food. Once they have decided they like it, eating it naturally follows.
- Unless it’s a very special occasion, cook the same meal for everyone. You are not running a restaurant, you are just trying to feed your family healthy meals while managing the balance of your day. Make sure there are choices, and then let everyone choose what they want. While you can certainly prepare your children’s favorite healthy foods, don’t give in to letting your child dictate the menu every night or insist on the same two or three foods for every meal.
- Children require 3 meals and 2 snacks and lots of water daily. You can cut down on nagging and crankiness by being prepared. Keep healthy snacks like small bags of carrots, apple slices, fruit bars or yogurt handy and let the kids choose what they want. It takes some planning but when kids know what their choices are, they are more likely to follow the rules and will eventually stop asking for cookies or chips.
- Kids are going to choose to eat their favorite foods first. So if you find they are leaving their vegetables uneaten the majority of the time, try offering some cut up raw vegetables with dip as an appetizer before dinner when the kids are really hungry. Sometimes kids eat better when there are no competing foods on the plate.
- Allow the occasional treat. When everyone eats healthy balanced meals the majority of the time, you can stop for ice cream now and then or have some treats at the movies. Of course, there’s always Grandma’s house and you’d likely be hard pressed to convince Grandma not to give the kids a cookie or two.
With time and patience, kids will form a healthy relationship with food. When kids are feeling happy and energized, you might point out to them the healthy food that they had for lunch. If kids are hyper and cranky, you might suggest it was the sugary foods they ate at their friend’s party that is making their body hurt. Kids should know that food is fuel and that their bodies perform best when given food that is nourishing and beneficial. When your child steps up to the plate and gets a base hit in Little League, or competes in a swim meet or performs well in school, you can rest assured that your hard work and influence over their food choices is helping them be their best!
While you are working on getting more vegetables into your children’s diet, you may want to consider one of these great multivitamin and mineral supplements formulated specifically for kids:Ultra Preventive Kids Grape (201035) by Douglas Laboratories – This great tasting chewable multiple vitamin, mineral and trace element supplement is designed for children aged 4 and up. Hypoallergenic, no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, yeast, gluten, soy or dairy. Multigenics Chewable Orange by Metagenics – Designed for children aged 2 and over, this high quality naturally flavored chewable provides comprehensive and essential vitamins and minerals for overall optimal health. Non-GMO and gluten free. Nordic Berries by Nordic Naturals – This delicious chewable gummy multivitamin and mineral supplement supports growth and development for children aged 2 and up. No artificial coloring, flavoring or preservatives. Gelatin, gluten and allergen free.