Instilling healthy eating habits in your children from a young age makes it much easier for them to maintain those important habits throughout their lives. It sets the foundation for their relationship with food and how they care for themselves and their own families. Take a look at some of the great advice below for teaching kids healthy eating habits from the start.
Best advice for teaching kids healthy eating habits
Be a good role model
Children learn many of their adult skills by copying their parents. They tend to remember your actions more than what you verbalise to them. It then makes sense that if you want to teach them good eating habits, you need to be a strong role model and practise what you preach.
If you eat a giant pepperoni pizza a few days a week, while telling them that they need to eat their fruit and vegetables, they learn to take what you say less seriously. If you do not follow your own advice, why should they? Research into the development of children’s eating behaviours reveals that the more often you eat healthy foods in front of your children, the more likely it is that they will choose to eat these foods themselves.
Show them the process
Help your children feel invested in their own health by including them in the process. Ask for their help when making meal plans, take them with you to the grocery store, show them how to cook from a young age, and continually explain to them why you decided to cook or buy what you did. Not only will they be more inclined to eat the food you cook, but they will understand how to make healthy food choices in the future independently.
Meet your meat
Have your children ever seen a farm in real life? Do they think milk comes straight from a carton, or that apples always come shiny and perfect? Take your children to a local farm or farmer’s market and let them meet the people who grew or raised their favourite foods. Go berry picking or milk a cow.
No farms nearby? Grow your own food at home. Even if you do not have a lot of space, you can plant a few small herbs or vegetables in pots. They can then see the entire process from seed to nutritious meal.
Do not ban bad foods completely
Kids and adults alike love the overly sweet, salty, or crunchy taste of junk food. The manufacturing companies understand this and over-flavour their products to keep you coming back for more. Clue your children into this sneaky trick, but do not completely ban these types of food. This can end up increasing their cravings without teaching them how to deal with these cravings correctly.
They may seek out the banned food while at a friend’s house or at school. Then, once they successfully find the banned food, they may try to eat it even when too full, resulting in an overeating habit. But keep in mind that certain foods will affect your child’s mood.
Allow them freedom of choice
If you want your children to choose healthy snacks over unhealthy ones, you need to allow them some freedom of choice. Keep an interesting variety of prepared, healthy foods ready for when your child gets hungry and you are not around to help them out. Let them choose what they want to eat themselves, so you do not end up hearing, ‘I don’t want that now’ over and over again.
Limit screen time and encourage physical activities
Encourage your children to get up and participate in physical activities for fun instead of just sitting in front of a television, smartphone, or computer screen. Children who lead a sedentary lifestyle in their youth are more likely to continue these unhealthy habits into adulthood. Get them to turn off the video games or put down the popcorn and movies a few days a week and play outside instead. If they do not know what kind of physical activities they like, get them to try a bunch of different ones until they find something that sparks their interest. They will stick with it longer if they enjoy doing it.
Engraining healthy eating habits from a young age does not happen overnight and you need to stay involved in your child’s life to ensure you succeed. Do not give up right away if they do not like a new food. It can take several introductions for their taste buds to accept a specific taste.
Pay attention to what food options they have at school and make your voice heard if you think they do not offer enough healthy ones. Work closely with your child’s paediatrician to monitor their health and be there for your children when they have questions or concerns.