Encouraging children to develop healthy habits begins with their eating habits. When you start encouraging healthy eating habits and proper nutrition at a young age, your children naturally develop a preference for healthy food choices. As a parent, you want to make a balanced diet a part of your lifestyle. By taking steps to improve the dietary habits of your entire family, and focusing on getting your children to eat healthier food choices, you limit the risks related to nutrient deficiencies and poor diet.
Keep Healthy Food Choices Available
Accessibility is a key part of dietary health, particularly at a young age. When children are young, their preferences and tastes in foods are still developing. As a parent, you want to introduce healthy foods several times at meals and snacks to encourage your child to try the food.
Place healthy food choices within your child’s reach. Keep fruits and vegetables on the bottom shelf of the fridge or in an area your child can easily see and reach the food. Allow your child to select any food item within their reach when they ask for a snack.
When the foods are available and easy to reach, a child will naturally ask for the food. For example, if you keep apples and bananas on the bottom shelf of the fridge, then a child will naturally eat a banana or apple as a snack. It is the first food item a child sees when he or she feels ready for a snack, which limits the risk of unhealthy food choices.
Praise a Child’s Healthy Food Choices
When your child asks for an apple, an orange, or any other fruit or vegetable as a snack, praise his or her choice. Tell your child that you are happy he or she enjoys the food, and eat the same snack your child chooses.
Ask a child for his or her preferences when planting a garden, and praise the healthy food choices. For example, if your child asks to plant tomatoes, berries, or even onions, then praise the selection, and make the process of growing food items a fun activity. Keep your child involved, and reward the healthy food choices with praise.
Positive reinforcement or giving your child praise and attention, encourages the actions you want from your child in the future. It tells your child that you are proud of their behavior, choices, and decisions. It also helps your child feel involved in your family’s food choices, and encourages him or her to try out new foods by making personal selections, and growing the foods in your yard.
Take Advantage of Sweet Fruits as a Frozen Treat
Sweet fruits like bananas, blueberries, and strawberries make an excellent choice for a frozen treat. Instead of unhealthy and sugar-filled treats during the summer months, select specific fruits to keep in your freezer. Use the frozen fruits as a reward for good behavior or as a treat during hot weather.
If your child does not want to eat the fruits directly then put the frozen treats in a blender and make sweet frozen smoothies. Alternatively, blend up a mixture of fresh berries and then fill a few ice-cube trays or popsicle trays with the berry juice. Freeze the juice for a healthy popsicle or frozen treats during the summer months.
Make Foods Artistic
A key benefit of a healthy food is the bright and vibrant color. Bright red tomatoes, sunny yellow peppers, and dark green broccoli provide a brilliant foundation for food art.
Get children involved in the process of eating and cooking through food art. Use the bright colors to create fun images and designs. For example, make a round sandwich with whole grain bread, and then cover it with fruit to create an owl, fish, or other animals. Alternatively, cut the colorful fruits and vegetables into fun shapes, and then create something artistic out of the designs.
You can also use cookie cutters to create fun shapes with fresh fruits and vegetables. For example, use snowman cookie cutters during the holiday season, and cut snowmen out of a piece of bread with peanut butter or any other nut butter. Cover the snowman with different fruits and vegetables to create a smiling face, coat, and top-hat. Use flower-shaped cookie cutters for spring. Cookie cutters make it easy to get a child involved in the artistic endeavor by providing a foundation for the artwork. Allow children to let out their imagination while creating fun and interesting works of art with their food.
Picky eating habits are a normal part of childhood. Since children have limited exposure to different foods, and are still developing their preferences. They often reject foods they are seeing for the first time. While parents encourage children to try new foods through food art and growing the foods directly, a child may seem reluctant to actually eat certain items.
A simple solution to help with a picky eater is consistency. Introduce the food item, and have a child try the food. If he or she does not like the food, then do not force the child to continue eating or to clear his or her plate. At a later date, introduce the food again. Repeat the process of introducing food items at meals on multiple occasions. Generally, it takes roughly 5 to 10 times before a child feels familiar with a food, and starts to develop a preference for the item.
Provide Fruits and Vegetables Often
Fruits and vegetables are not only a good choice for dinner. They are a good choice to add to every meal and snack. Give your children vegetables with each meal. For example, sprinkle peppers, tomatoes, and onions in an omelet in the mornings for breakfast. Alternatively, scramble eggs with a variety of vegetables and a small portion of cheese. For lunches, give your child baby carrots, sliced peppers or other vegetables as a side.
Regular exposure to vegetables and a variety of foods eliminates unfamiliarity. When children become familiar with foods through their regular meals, it does not seem intimidating to try the vegetable or to eat new vegetables. Children are more likely to eat a variety of foods when they feel comfortable and familiar with the item.
Keep Junk Food Out of the House
A simple way to make a healthy change for the entire family is eliminating the junk food. Do not keep junk food items like candy, chips, or ice cream in the house. Even though a child may resist the change initially, you must remain consistent with this rule.
Do not reintroduce unhealthy food items into your diet or your child’s diet. Instead, select healthy snacks and foods at the grocery store. Focus on the outside walls of the store. For example, opt for fresh fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein, and low-fat dairy. If you bring yogurt into the house, then opt for plain yogurt, and add fresh fruit and honey to the plain yogurt for flavor. If children do not have unhealthy food options available in the house then they eat healthy options for snacks and meals.
By following through and avoiding unhealthy foods in the house, you also lead your children by example. They watch the foods you eat as a snack or meal, and learn to follow your example and eat the same foods.
Change Out Your Dessert Plans
Eating dessert after dinner seems appealing even to parents. A simple solution to keep dessert available and to avoid unhealthy habits is through fruit. Instead of cake, cookies, or other unhealthy foods, give your children sweet fruit for dessert after a meal. For example, eat strawberries or blueberries after a meal. Alternatively, enjoy a sweet melon or pineapple.
Several fruits have a sweet and sugary taste, but they also give your child vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants they need for healthy development. Certain fruits, like berries, contain high levels of antioxidants and nutrients.
Eating a well-balanced diet is a key part of maintaining good health. When you want to keep your children healthy while educating them about food, you must start with the foods they eat at home. Focus on a well-balanced diet containing a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grain carbohydrate foods. Get your children involved in the process of selecting foods, growing vegetables, and making artistic meals. Give your children healthy options, and remove the unhealthy foods from the house. You will see positive benefits in your child’s eating habits as well as the health of your entire family.