Would you be shocked if I told you that there are major benefits to feeding your children healthful food? You probably already know that healthful food builds children who think more clearly, are less prone to illness, and are stronger. You probably even know that children who eat healthfully may live longer, healthier lives, and can prevent obesity. You are probably already teaching these things to your children to ensure that healthful eating becomes part of their daily lifestyle, but there are some additional facts that might add to your healthful eating program.
Teaching children to eat well may seem overwhelming, but is actually very simple if you follow these 6 simple ways to start your child on a path of mindful, healthy eating.
Eat together. Family meals are a reassuring routine for the whole family. Children like the predictability of family meals, and parents also have a chance to reconnect with their kids. This is also the time kids actually get to observe their parent’s eating habits. Hopefully, you have healthy eating habits, but, this is the time to enhance them. Although that puts the pressure on you to eat a well-balanced and well-proportioned meal, and eat with good manners, it pays off with a lifetime of early developed good habits in your children.
Serve a variety of food. Don’t get hung up on the same menu. Periodically break out of the mold and purchase a food you or your family has never tried before. The benefits of variety are many; intake of a variety of vitamins and minerals, more aesthetic appeal, and development of more accepting taste-buds. When serving a meal, try to aim for different colors and textures. If your children get into the habit of seeing fruits and vegetables at every dinner meal, they’ll expect them at other meals as well.
Keep healthful foods convenient. When kids are hungry they grab for the closest and easiest food. Have fruits and vegetables pre-washed and ready on the counter when they come home from school. If you want, they can dip fruit or vegetables in a low-fat cream cheese dip or in peanut butter. If unhealthy foods aren’t within reach and ready to eat, they won’t eat them.
Limit portions. Teach your children moderation, and practice it yourself. Children sometimes don’t know when to stop eating. Show them what an appropriate portion size is for them, and teach them self-control when they want more. Moderating vegetable and fruit consumption usually isn’t the problem; the refined starches are harder to stop eating, such as popcorn, potato chips, and cookies. Although these foods have their place, limit them to avoid overeating, and teach them while young that these foods aren’t forbidden, they should just be eaten in moderation.
Avoid processed foods. “Processed” refers to foods that aren’t derived naturally; such as potato chips, candy, and cookies or cupcakes. Stock up on foods that are closest to nature, such as fruits, nuts, vegetables, cheese and yogurt. Refined starches such as white sugar and white flour are easily overeaten, stored as fat, and cause rapid changes in blood sugar. Whole grains, nuts, and honey have more staying power and are digested more slowly so that they provide the energy a child needs to make it through the day. Studies have shown that children who limit their refined foods actually think more clearly, and sleep better, among many other benefits.
Don’t link emotion with food. Many times parents reward children with food. Although this is okay sometimes, if done too often it can cause children to link food with behavior, and tying an emotion to food may create problems later on. If a child does something worth rewarding, reward with a trip to the library, a picnic in the park (the place more than the food is the incentive), or play a favorite game with them. If you reward your child with food, make it a healthful choice, such as making them their favorite healthful dinner, or going out for low-fat frozen yogurt.
Parents, who neglect to teach children proper eating habits, who feed their children highly processed foods, and who reward children with food, leave their kids susceptible to obesity. If the majority of parents do these things, we would have a childhood obesity epidemic. Fortunately, parents like you, who take the time to read articles like this, are our first line of defense against what would be a national health problem.