My neighbors regularly ask me how I get my son to eat healthy foods. “My kids just won’t eat vegetables! How do you get your son to eat them?” They are also surprised to find that my son eats a variety of foods that many American children don’t eat, including foods from India, Mexico, Thailand, and other areas of the world.
If you want your child to eat healthier, it requires a little effort. Here are 5 tips that can help you improve your child’s eating habits:
1. Start Young
The younger you start, the better. We started my son out on smushed vegetables before we started him on mashed fruit. Additionally, we gave him milk and water instead of juice. The idea is to get them used to trying different foods at an early age. While you do want to be careful (watch out for food allergies), many things can be fed to children if they are properly prepared.
We used the food processor to make it easier for our son to eat what we were eating from a young age. As he’s grown, he’s just been expected to eat what we are eating, and that’s helped, too. Since he’s had a variety of foods from a young age, he’s grown up with it, and it’s easier for him to accept new foods. Start out young, and you will find that your kids are more open to vegetables and other healthy foods.
2. Serve Smaller Portions
One of the issues with Western eating habits is portion control. This is especially true where I live. Instead of loading up the plate and then insisting that your child eat everything on that plate, serve smaller portions. Getting children into the habit of eating large portions can lead to over-eating down the road. Make sure that the bigger portions are vegetables.
Your child will clean his or her plate without being told to when the portions are smaller. Then he or she can ask for a little more if he or she is still hungry. Make it a point, though, to let your child know that “seconds” are limited to the healthiest dinner items. My son might want another helping of the beef or the pasta, but we require him to have more vegetables before he can go that far.
By changing your child’s expectations of what a “serving size” is, you can set him or her up for better eating habits in the future.
3. Keep Healthy Snacks Available
One of the problems is that children might go straight for the junk food. If you can make healthy snacks available, and start them out as the norm, it is much easier to encourage good snacking habits. My son loves peanut butter on celery, and he’s a big fan of plain popcorn and nuts. These are reasonable snacks that provide nutrition to kids, and that are reasonably healthy. Put healthy snacks out, limiting choices, and you can encourage healthy habits that stick.
4. Set a Good Example
You need to set the example for your kids. Anytime you want your children to do something, they need to see you doing it. If you eat junk food all the time, but tell your kids to eat healthy, you will be resented. If you are eating healthy, though, your kids will see that it is what “adults do.” Doing it as a family offers belonging and it can help your entire family eat better and enjoy better health and nutrition. This means that you might need to make changes in your own diet. But as long as you are doing the same thing, your kids will be more willing to do it.
5. Sit Down at the Table
One of the best things you can do to help your children develop better eating habits is to sit down together and eat for meals. Eating dinner together three or four times a week can be a great way to encourage health habits for life. Plus, sitting down together and having regular meals can prevent the “grazing” and portion distortion that comes with haphazard eating.
You can make it even more fun by preparing dinner together. My son is old enough that he can help prepare meals, doing simple things like stirring the pot, or even cutting some vegetables with supervision. Children are more excited about eating healthy when they have had a hand in the preparation.
What do you do to encourage health eating?