10 Ways to Get Kids to Eat Healthier

10 Ways to Get Kids to Eat Healthier

Eating habits are learned behaviors; they’re not intuitive. So what your children learn to eat at home early in life sticks with them well into adulthood.

Today we are disconnected from our food sources in a way that is unprecedented in human history. Fewer and fewer Americans cook meals from scratch because it’s easier and faster to throw a frozen dinner in the oven or grab something from a fast-food restaurant on the way home from work. And the guerilla marketing foisted upon us by fast- and processed-food companies isn’t helping.

Most parents know that their kids are under continuous assault by corporate food advertising — but they feel frustrated by it, and even powerless against it.

In reality, a few simple tools combined with a mantra of “variety, moderation, and balance” will provide you with all you need to ensure the long-term nutritional health of your child.

1. Be a good role model.

Most of the parents we know complain that their children refuse to eat healthfully and come to us in search of magic recipes that will put an end to mealtime madness. The real problem most often lies with the parents, not the kids.

Most of us are so accustomed to eating out and buying prepared foods in the grocery store that we don’t even know what good food is anymore. We can’t line our cabinets with packaged cereals and sodas and expect our kids to eat like they were raised on a commune in rural Vermont. In order to be good role models we must educate ourselves first and then practice what we preach.

2. Take your kids shopping with you.

Unfortunately we don’t all live near farms or farmers’ markets, so it’s not easy for us or our children to feel a connection with good, whole (unprocessed) foods. One way to help them learn is to make a point to take them grocery shopping with you. Of course it’s probably easier to go alone when there’s someone at home to watch them or they’re at school, but it’s important for them to see foods in their raw states so they can explore and ask questions.

Take them when you’re not in a hurry and spend a lot of time in the aisles that contain unprocessed foods — the produce, meat, and fish departments, for example. If your child appears to be interested in a certain type of fruit or vegetable, encourage him or her to explore that item; don’t just assume that your child won’t like it. Take it home and let him try it so he can make his own decisions.

When Ben, Lisa’s son, was a baby, he liked to ride in the cart holding an avocado. Every time they went shopping he’d point at the avocados until Lisa gave him one. When he was three he asked if he could bring some mangos home. He was also intrigued by the spiky orange exterior of the unusual kiwano fruit (also known as the African Horned Melon). He carried it for the duration of their  shopping trip and insisted it be cut the minute he got it home. Its green, seedy interior was a bit off-putting to him, but he tried it anyway.

Exploring food this way gives Ben and his mom a chance to talk about how something is cooked and where it comes from. It also allows Ben to feel like he’s making choices about what he eats.

3. Be flexible!

Remember, anything in moderation is okay. Of course, if you eat doughnuts in moderation, followed by potato chips in moderation and soda in moderation, it is no longer healthy. Having a cookie every day and balancing it with healthy foods is a better practice of moderation.

While we always want to make the healthiest choices for our children’s bodies, a special treat once a week or even once a day won’t do any damage. On the contrary, it will help make eating a more enjoyable experience and will help your child build a good relationship with food.

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