One of the leading causes of childhood obesity is poor food choices. When faced with a decision between vegetables and a cookie, most children are going to choose the cookie. Admit it, sometimes even adults do the same thing! However, with a few strategic lessons and by being a good role model, you can teach your children to put their health first.
Here are some ideas:
Help them learn to like healthy foods
Children often resist many foods including vegetables and whole grains, because they’re being forced upon them. Instead of preparing a plate of lima beans and telling your children to eat it all, give them a choice. Prepare a variety of vegetables, side dishes, and whole-grain options. Encourage your children to try new things.
Children generally have to try something several times before they begin to like it. You will have to be patient. Reward them with verbal praise when they try new healthy foods.
If they say they don’t like it, nod your head and praise them for trying it. Let them know that taste buds change and they might like it better next time or as they get a bit older.
Make sugar a treat
Many children have become so accustomed to sweet foods, that anything that doesn’t have sugar just tastes bad. If your children eat a lot of sweets, start reducing the amount they have available to them. Limit it initially to one treat a day and then eventually consider reducing it to one treat a week.
However, make sure that food doesn’t become a reward for behavior. And don’t forget to check things like cereal which can be high in sugar. Once your children’s desire for sweets decrease, they’ll enjoy eating a variety of other healthy foods.
Involve them in meal planning and preparation
Children that help you prepare a meal, are going to be much more excited about eating it. Invite your children to help you choose meals, help with the grocery shopping, and then prepare the foods.
When you’re in the produce area, ask your children to find and pick out the various vegetables and fruits you need for the meal. They’ll learn about their veggies, and they’ll be more excited to try them.
Consider putting them in charge of the meal choices for one evening each week. You can provide them with a list of choices. You can also browse cookbooks together.
Be a good role model
You cannot expect your children to make healthy choices if you do not. Take good care of your health. Exercise and eat well. Let your children see that taking care of themselves and making good food choices is important.
Embrace other cultures
Often one of the great ways to help your children appreciate food is to help them learn about what other cultures eat. You can embrace one country each month and make a meal. You can call it “cultural night.” Combine it with family game night, and make trying new foods something to which you can look forwards.
Teach your children the “why” behind the food choices
If your children don’t know why they should make healthy choices, they won’t care. Explain about how the body works and what it needs to function properly. Talk to them about how some foods provide lasting energy, while other foods burn out quickly and make us feel tired and cranky. Adjust the conversation depending on your children’s ages.
Finally, just enjoy food, because it’s so easy to get caught in the trap of being too rigid about food. This can cause a backlash. It can motivate children to hide food and to feel ashamed. Make sure children know that it’s about moderation, not restriction and deprivation. This will lead to a happy relationship with food that they can take into their adult years.