Kids and Healthy Eating: Where to Start & How to Actually Get Them To Do It
Okay, moms. I don’t need to tell you that healthy eating is important for your children. But it’s easier said than done, right?
We all know that kids need proper nutrition to help their little bodies and brains develop well. But, if you have been a mom longer than a year, you also know that those little people come out of the womb with their own minds and opinions about things. If you are a new mom looking to give your baby the best possible start in life with the best nutrition now and forever, you are here at the right place and time. If you are starting with children who have decided that pickles (only the sliced ones with the crinkly edges) and macaroni and cheese (only the white kind with the shell-shaped noodles) are the only foods they will ever eat, then I salute you, fellow warrior.
Even though you know that nutrition is important, let me provide you with a little more incentive for feeding them well. You will need this in your armor to give you endurance for the fight. First of all, studies are showing an increasing connection between infant and child nutrition and disorders such as celiac disease, ADD/ADHD, autism, allergies, depression, and anxiety. Also, research is showing a connection between nutrition and gene expression. Proper nutrition may prevent the onset of diseases later on and may even help your children pass on stronger, healthier genes to their children. I know grandchildren may seem like a lifetime away, but you want them to be healthy, too, right?
Here are some key guidelines for feeding children (preschool age and up):
- Avoid added sugar
- Fats and proteins are essential nutrients for kids
- Try to fit as many vegetables as possible in their diet; get sneaky if necessary!
- Focus on whole, raw fruits for full nutritional benefit; avoid canned fruits, fruit juices, and fruit/gummy snacks
- Avoid processed foods as much as possible
- Aim for variety
My Lesson from my Parrot
I had a parrot named “Sydney” in the early years of my marriage. He was a little, green Quaker Parrot, and he was the most interesting pet ever. Before I could bring him home from being hand-fed at the pet store, I visited him and read a book on raising a friendly, talkative bird. I read that nuts and seeds should be used as treats and that pellets were the best nutrition for my little guy. I don’t know if that’s true, but I wanted to give him the best, so I fed him pellets when he got home. The problem was that he had gotten used to seeds at the pet store. He and I had a silent battle of the wills. He refused to eat at first, and I refused to cave in to giving him what he wanted. Little Sydney didn’t know that I was used to silently staring down ornery teenagers in my public high school classroom. I was going to win. And I did. He finally got hungry enough that he ate what I gave him. I have had similar battles with my children. At one point, I got rid of cereal and tried to feed them differently at breakfast. They hated oatmeal at first and practically refused to eat it. Now, they love it. I have fed the same meal to my children several times over the course of months. One would complain every. single. time. Then one day, something magical happened. She told me it was her favorite and that she loved it. Also, we work together. There are some things my kids don’t like that I still make them eat or at least try. And there are things that they hate (I’m looking at you, quinoa) that I don’t force on them. There are plenty of other nutritious options they can have instead. Now, of course I’m not suggesting starving out your kids until they finally eat what you provide, but letting them know that they don’t get different food than the rest of the family and that this is the way your family eats now can definitely help.
One key to getting your kids on board with healthy eating is to get them as involved as possible. Here are some ideas:
Ask them what meals they enjoy.
If it’s not particularly nutritious, search for better options! For example, if they love pizza, try making pizza at home. If they love chicken noodle soup, make it from scratch instead of out of a can. Maybe even freeze some for later. And lasagna made with veggies instead of noodles is a cheesy, sneaky way to get them to eat more vegetables.
Let them help in the kitchen as much as their age level allows for.
With small children, let them stir things. For older children, let them make their own smoothies, snacks, and breakfasts. Teach them how to scramble eggs or make pancakes. Believe me, it may get messy, but it is truly worth it.
Plan ahead when leaving the house.
If you are going to a birthday party, maybe talk about what they are allowed to have. This can be really tricky territory, but maybe let them know that they can pick cake or ice-cream but not both. Or that they can have both but may only drink water. Or that that you will pass on snacks but have a fun treat/surprise waiting for afterwards. Pack appropriate snacks or meals when spending a long stretch running errands or playing at the park to avoid hangriness and rash decisions.
Talk about healthy eating and why it’s important.
They truly are little sponges, so fill them up with good information! You will know you’re doing something right when you hear your child telling a friend, “This lollipop has corn syrup and artificial flavors, so it’s not good for you.” You will cringe and then chat privately about being polite, but you’ll know you’ve started something good.
Get them involved in harvesting food.
Whether that is gardening, fishing, hunting, or raising chickens, they are much more likely to eat food that they had a part in bringing to the table. If your lifestyle allows, you can do these things at home, but if not, many communities and schools offer opportunities that allow children to participate in gardening and other harvesting activities. And a big bonus, anytime you're harvesting food yourself, it's as fresh and local as it comes!
If you’re not sure where to start with a truly healthy eating, check out Whole Foods vs Processed Foods: What’s the Difference and Why It Matters, and How to Create a Balanced Diet.
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