Diet is one of the most important factors for health in children. Not only can a healthy diet give kids the proper nutrition that they need for development, but it can also give them healthy habits that they can keep with them throughout their lives. Kids can be notoriously picky eaters, however, so how can you teach them about healthy eating and healthy food?
The Impact of Healthy Eating
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a balanced diet with fresh produce, whole grains and low-fat dairy and protein can lead to health benefits and prevent the early onset of health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. There can also be other positive outcomes when you offer healthy eating choices to your children. According to the CDC, good eating habits can lead to increased energy, weight loss, increased concentration and better behaviour. So kids do not have to wait until adulthood to see the benefits of a healthy diet; they can start feeling the positive impact of a healthy diet almost immediately.
Healthy eating can also help children develop a higher level of self-discipline. The good food choices may inspire more-disciplined choices when it comes to things beyond eating (such as school, choice of activities, choice of friends and the ability to stick to a routine).
Diet can also affect mental health and lower problems related to depression and attention deficit disorder (ADD).
4 Ways to Teach Kids about Healthy Eating
The benefits of healthy eating are well known. How can you teach kids about healthy eating without having every meal turn into an argument about eating vegetables and skipping fried foods?
1. Family Meals
One way to get children to develop healthy eating habits is to have them take part in meal preparation. This will give them insight into the ingredients that go into meals. It can be difficult to find time to cook together. One option is to cook meals for the whole week at one time, and then eat one meal together each evening (if possible). Both preparation time and meal times can be ideal for discussing healthy eating, finding out which healthy new foods the children like and which food groups are represented in each dish.
Another option is to have lunch preparation time in the evening and get your kids to make and pack their own lunches. Discuss the food groups represented in the kids’ meal choices. Let them have a say in which foods they choose. You want them to practice making healthy food choices for themselves. Perhaps you can provide guidelines that allow them to choose any food as long as it fits within a required food group.
The goal of these meals and meal preparation sessions is to discuss food and develop instincts for healthy food choices. You can do this for any meal, as long as there are healthy food choices for the kids and as long as you help them understand that they are creating a balanced diet.
2. Teach Kids to Read Nutrition Labels
Nutrition labels can help you plan your diet and meet needs for calories, protein, vitamins and minerals. Labels can be especially important if you are trying to limit certain things such as sodium, saturated fats and sugars in your kids’ diets.
You can teach your kids to spot these unwanted ingredients and read the percentage contained in the product. Another thing to teach your children is “serving size.” You can even get a measuring cup so that they can ensure the exact serving size. You do not need to be too exact with the measurement because the goal is to get your kids to be more mindful of their food.
In addition to teaching kids about ingredients, you can take them to the store with you and allow them to compare food labels in a “real world” setting. You might even ask them to choose between two options based on the label information. You can ask them to explain their choice after they have made it.
3. Keep Recipes and Let Them Create Their Own
You can keep recipes and encourage kids to search the internet or in the library to find recipes that include certain food groups or make use of healthy foods such as vegetables or lean protein.
Again, one of the most important aspects of teaching kids about healthy eating is getting them involved in the food selection and preparation process so that they have practice in making healthy eating choices. Your ultimate goal is to get them to learn to make healthy choices on their own without you giving them guidance. As they grow, they will have more and more opportunities to make their own food choices, and you want to give them the knowledge of healthy eating to help them make the right (healthy) choices each time.
4. Have Good Household Eating Habits
A large part of a diet is creating the habit. You want to create healthy eating habits so that your kids (and you) make healthy eating choices easily and automatically. One important aspect of creating healthy habits is having healthy foods readily available. Keep a bowl of fruit out on the table and have low fat, low sugar snacks ready when your kids get home from school.
Your kids will look at your eating habits as well. You can create a good example by eating healthy foods and avoiding fast food, high-fat foods or pre-prepared foods.
You can certainly have desserts, sweet foods or other “treats” on occasion. Make sure that kids know that this is an exception to the healthy-eating habits in your home. You can avoid overindulging by not keeping foods like ice cream or candy or cake at home. You may wish to purchase a small-sized dessert so that the family can finish it in one sitting and not have any “temptation” left over.
WIth these parenting tips, you can teach your kids how to eat healthy and how to make good food choices even at times when you are not there to guide them.