The seriousness of the childhood obesity problem in the United States should be reason enough for parents to raise kids who eat healthy foods! Children who are overweight or obese have a high risk for a wide range of health issues including hypertention, Type 2 diabetes, and sleep apnea.
Fortunately, there’s good news: Foods that aid in disease prevention and control can also aid in weight control. You, as parents, can start taking the right steps in getting your children to eat healthy foods now!
Planning Ahead Is Key to Success
But, first, you should have a plan! If you have a plan, you’re planning for success, not to mention that it’s a good way to gauge your progress, make changes, and stay on track.
- Be your children’s role model.
Your children will pick up your values and habits, thus, being a healthy eater yourself is an excellent start. Being part of a healthy family is just as important so you and your co-parent/partner/spouse should agree on healthy eating habits.
- Start early.
Children acquire their eating habits as babies and toddlers. You should then start feeding your children healthy foods – whole foods, preferably – as soon as they can, usually around six months old. As they grow older, you must put a wide variety of healthy foods on their plate so your children think it’s normal.
- Add physical activity, too.
Diet and exercise go hand-in-hand so it’s important to raise children who love to play outdoors, too. Children should enjoy 60-90 minutes of outdoor physical activities each day.
- Be careful with the words you use.
Avoid making negative comments about your children’s food habits, particularly about what they are eating and how much they are eating. Instead, praise your kids when they eat healthy food and encourage them to continue with their healthy eating habits. More importantly, avoid being the “food enforcer” by ordering them to eat their fruits and vegetables – your child will likely resist if you do otherwise.
Healthy Foods to Give to Your Children
The principles and practices for healthy eating are the same for children and adults. But children need different amounts of carbohydrates, proteins and fat as well as vitamins and minerals at different ages. Be sure to keep food portions according to your childrens’ ages.
Regardless of age, however, give these healthy foods to your children.
- Fruits and vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables are the best but it’s also okay to give your children the canned, frozen and dried kind with little to no added sugar. The wider the variety, the better for your children but introduce them to new fruits and vegetables in a positive manner.
Potatoes and their cooked varieties, such as fries and hash browns don’t count because of their negative effect on blood sugar levels. Sweet potatoes are a better alternative.
- Whole grains
Oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice as well as whole-wheat bread and pasta are healthy options. Limit your children’s consumption of refined grains in white bread, white rice and pasta. The less processed the grains, the healthier.
Lean meat like poultry, seafood and fish, eggs, peas and beans, unsalted nuts and seeds, and soy products are healthy sources of proteins. Limit red meat (pork, beef and lamb). Keep processed meats (sausages, hotdogs and deli meats) off your children’s plates.
- Dairy and oils
Stick to fat- or low-fat dairy products like yogurt, milk and cheese; choose unflavored versions, too. Use healthy oils like canola, extra virgin olive oil, and sunflower oil for cooking and dressings. Butter should be used sparingly.
Encourage your children to drink as much water as possible. Soda and other sweetened beverages should be off the table.
Effective Tips in Raising Children with Healthy Eating Habits
With that said, you can adopt these steps in setting lifelong healthy eating habits in your children.
Schedule Family Meal Times
You have the opportunity to set a good example of healthy eating habits when you and your children eat together. It doesn’t even have to be three meals a day – dinner is a great time because everybody feels more relaxed and willing to share stories of their day. You can let them see you practice – without preaching on your end – healthy eating habits.
Tip: Set a 30-minute timer for dinner time so your kids can stay focused on the meal and on family time.
Get the Kids Involved in Meal Planning and Preparation
When children become involved in their food, so to speak, they are more likely to eat them. Give your kids specific tasks when you’re planning meals and cooking food, even setting the table. Other ways to get your children involved are:
- Let them add healthy food choices to your grocery list.
- Take them grocery shopping in supermarkets and farmers’ markets. Be sure to give them simple choices, too (e.g., green or red apples).
- Allow them to choose the food for at least one meal in a day or the week. Even the choice of veggies to be served will give your children a sense of pride and ownership over the food.
As they grow older, they can take over many of the responsibilities in the kitchen. Not only will their sense of responsibility grow but their healthy eating habits will become stronger.
Encourage Mindful Eating
Instead of rushing through meal and snack times, you can encourage your children to practice mindful eating. Basically, it means taking the time to enjoy the sensations – color, texture and taste, even mouthfeel – of the food and drinks you’re eating. You should also encourage your children to chew their food slowly and savor the sensations.
Aside from preventing children from overeating, these will also encourage them to appreciate food not only for their nourishing qualities but for their pleasures, too.
Healthy eating habits start with parents – you! You must then be your children’s role models first before you can encourage them to follow your example. You will also benefit from raising children who eat healthy foods, from happier children to lower medical bills.
And there’s no better time to start your children on healthy eating habits than now! There’s always time to reverse the trend and start a healthy lifestyle for you and your family.