As hard as we try, it can be difficult to get our children to eat as healthy as we want them to. Time, budget and of course their willingness to eat healthy foods, are all hurdles parents face every day.
Here are top 6 tips to get your kids to eat healthy:
Yes, you have to put your own oxygen mask on first!
Too often we set parameters for our diet around what our kids want to eat (or what we think they will eat) and then our diet suffers too. The first thing you want to do, when trying to get your kids to eat healthier, is look at improvements that can be made to your own diet. Your health is important too. Not only do children naturally mimic their parents, but they will see what you’re eating and eventually may copy.
Of course, the same goes for unhealthy foods as well. Think about what your go-to “sin foods” are, then think about what your parents liked to eat when you were a kid. Any similarities? It would be pretty difficult to get your kids to eat a salad, if you were sitting there eating a pizza. Unfortunately, that whole “do as I say, not as I do” rule doesn’t really work with food.
One of the best ways you can avoid having a picky eater is to make sure you introduce them a wide variety of flavours and textures. At the same time, you do not want to overburden their digestive system that is still developing. You can start introducing solid foods to babies after 6 months and once they can sit up on their own. Baby-led weaning, versus traditional weaning, has been shown to reduce picky eating.
Baby-led weaning is the eating style, in which the babies feed themselves solid foods instead of being spoon fed purées. However, there is a proper and safe way to do baby-led weaning. At Essential Balance, we have also developed our own modified version of baby-led weaning, which adheres to all the technical rules of baby led weaning, but also takes into account babies’ digestion and nutritional needs.
If your kids are way past the baby stage, don’t worry, all hope is not lost; we still have lots more tips.
Family movie night with popcorn, the Saturday Night Hockey Game and Pizza, the family walk to the ice cream parlour. Think about some of your favourite childhood memories and what foods you ate during that time. Are these still some of your favourite foods?
Most food cravings and addictions have more to do with the emotion they invoke, than the food itself. With this in mind, try creating some family memories over healthy food. The number one way you can do this is, is to involve your kids in meal preparation. It may seem like more work to have them help, but maybe start out with just one meal a week (say, on a weekend). The great part is when they get a bit older, you can have them make dinner all by themselves every once in a while.
Another great way to bond over healthy food is to start a vegetable garden, or take a trip to an organic farm. It’s also important to educate them about healthy foods. Help them understand that eating healthy will give them more energy and prevent them from getting sick.
It can be hard to control a child’s eating habits at all times. Especially when they are at birthday parties, family events, school, daycare or their grandparents. Our house rule is that junk food stays out. By this, I mean no processed, packaged snacks or desserts enter our home – no chips, cookies, ice cream, pop or candy. It will be difficult for your kids to get their hands on these foods, if it’s not in the house at all. If I know the kids are getting lots of nutritious clean food at home, I don’t worry as much when we go out. I want them to have fun at birthday parties and I do believe it’s a grandparent’s right to spoil their grandchildren, so a few treats once in a while are okay. Although I still try to limit treats and make sure they eat a complete meal with some vegetables when we are out.
Going overboard during outings will just make them sick and that’s no fun for anyone. How strict you want to be will depend on your child and what you feel comfortable with. The last thing you want to be doing though is chasing your child around at a party with a piece of broccoli, but you won’t have to if you know that they ate lots of broccoli earlier on at home. Before we go out, I like to feed my kids something super nutritious like a smoothie bowl packed with greens. This also fills them up a bit, so they have less room for treats later on. It’s important to focus on what you can control and not worry as much about what you cannot. If your home is filled with only nutritious foods including some homemade or minimally processed (preferably organic) snacks and treats, your children will get used to eating more of these foods and so will you.
Having structure around eating and meal times is very important for both children and adults. You want to have set rules for food; for example our rules around food include no TV while eating, no snacks after 8pm, try everything, and no throwing food (but that rule really only applies to my one year old).
We also try to have set meal and snack times. Children thrive on routines and schedules. Of course, it is impossible to adhere to a schedule all the time, so it’s also important not to worry about it too much. You want to be firm with rules, but not so much that your child creates a negative relationship with food. The art of parenting is knowing when to push them and when to ease up. That is something each parent must decide for themselves (at Essential Balance, we help you with the healthy eating part – so you’ve got that covered!)
We’ve all done it, stared at the fridge with the door open trying to decide what to make for dinner. At that moment when you’re tired, you’ve been working all day and the kids are screaming for food, nutrition is the furthest thing from your mind. This is why it’s important to meal-plan. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated, plan your meals for the week and then plan your grocery shopping around it. I normally do this on a Saturday, and then on Sunday I do a bit of meal prep for the week.
I won’t make a full meal in advance, perhaps just a sauce, a salad dressing or I’ll soak and cook some beans and legumes. I often do some quick shopping mid-week to make sure the produce is fresh. If you are adopting a new healthy way of eating, I would suggest cycling four or five meals and then you can expand from there. Shopping, preparing and making meals is a full-time job in itself, so go slow, start with a small repertoire of healthy meals and take your time. Involving your children in the meal planning process is also great way to get them to buy into the meal before you even make it. It may even be fun to post upcoming meals on a chalkboard in the calendar.
Kirsten Colella is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist and the mother of two young children. She has experienced first-hand the difference good nutrition can make in her own children’s lives. She is a strong believer in families supporting one another and coming together over good food!
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