Eating healthy can be a very touchy subject, especially when it comes to feeding our kids. Whether we fall on the side that believes that sugar is the root-of-all-evil and should be avoided until age 18, or we give our toddler a cookie every time she does what we want, commenting on how and/or what another parent feeds their child[ren] can put everyone involved in a very uncomfortable position.
As a Nutritionist and someone who has personally seen the effects that food – healthy and not – can do to both the young and old alike, it is hard not to comment when I see what other families are feeding their kids or when they are dealing with kids who “just won’t eat”. Yet to be respectful, I’ve learned that “sharing” my opinion is something I only do when specifically asked (or in a way that is not condescending or judgmental). However, I know that trying to get our kids to eat healthier is a subject that SO many parents deal with and I want you to know there are ways to deal with it that will make meals a much less stressful experience for all involved.
Having two children of my own, and a husband (and MIL) who grew up hating vegetables, I know first-hand that kids learn by example and want to eat what their parents do. I also know that old habits can be hard to break, and whether we are talking about an adult who always pushes their green vegetables aside, or one who asks the waitress “is there something besides the veggies I can have on the side?”, our kids are watching and listening and will inevitably do the same.
As a parent, it’s also easy to give in to what we think our children want because that’s all they ever seem to eat. Yes, if your child knows that you will eventually feed him French Fries for dinner after refusing his quinoa and broccoli for long enough, then why should he even bother with trying new foods or ones that you yourself don’t seem to be enjoying?!
Moreover, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when our children constantly hear us talk about how they “never eat their veggies” or “will only eat carbs”. If your little one knows you feel that way already, then why try anything else?! In their minds, the battle has already been won.
5 Things to Help Kids Eat Healthier – All by Changing Our Own Perspectives
Once we have a picky eater on our hands, trying to “make” them eat any other way can seem like an impossible task and one that we rather not deal with at all. From throwing tantrums and food, to refusing to eat altogether, it often seems like the easiest thing to do is just give in to their demands and hope that eventually things will turn around.
Essentially, we give up.
But it doesn’t have to be this way!
The real change needs to start with us as the parents! Here are 5 steps to help make that happen:
- Don’t look at meal-time as a battle where one of the sides needs to win. Eating should be enjoyable. Your kids can feel your stress and will take it on themselves. So, before eating, take a deep breath and give thanks for your food – and your kids. Even this little gesture will start the meal off in a positive place, and set a good tone for what is to come.
- Don’t rush through your meal. Rushing and trying to scarf down your foods shows your child[ren] that eating isn’t top on your list of priorities and that other things are more important. Kids (and us adults!) need to realize that we eat to literally fuel our bodies and that the healthier we eat the better that we will feel. Slowly chewing our food and breathing between bites will show our kids that mealtime is important and that we care about our bodies – and theirs.
- Don’t label foods as good and bad. Now this can be tough. We all grew up hearing fruits and vegetables were good, and sweets were bad. But saying something is “good” or is “bad” is too generalized and doesn’t explain why. Moreover, it doesn’t let kids make up their minds for themselves – something that we all know they love to do! Instead, tell them the benefits of eating their veggies (ie, “carrots will help your eyesight so you will be able to see all the way across the playground”), or how eating their brown rice will give them “lots of energy so they can play soccer with the big kids” (or whatever it may be). You can also tell them that the “other foods” will make them fell sluggish or hurt their bellies instead as labeling them as “bad”.
- Don’t shun healthy foods or food groups (in front of your kids). Yes, there will always be those foods that you don’t like. You never have, you never will. But don’t let your kids hear you say that. By saying that you “never” liked something will make your kids think that this excuse is fair for them to use as well, possibly limiting foods that they would otherwise have really enjoyed but are never willing to even try.
- Don’t make food a reward. By saying stuff like “I ate all my vegetables so now I get dessert” makes a young mind think that by doing something that you didn’t want to do (ie, eating your veggies), you get something positive (ie, dessert). In turn, this means that eating your vegetables is something you HAVE to do and is therefore a negative thing. Instead, say something like, “I ate all of my vegetables and have filled-up my health tank. I now only have room for a small treat.” Talking this way may feel odd at first, but it will help instill that eating your vegetables (or other good-for-you foods) is a positive and something that you actually enjoy doing. Better yet, don’t associate dessert with eating your dinner at all. You can instead mention how you’ve worked hard today and want to treat yourself because you deserve it. Again, this correlates positive with positive.
I could go on and on about the reasons why we should get kids to eat healthier and how it all begins with us as parents, but I won’t. At least not in this article ;). However, I will finish this off by saying that kids learn by example and there is no better example then us parents. Kids see you taking good care of yourself – from eating healthy and exercising to taking some “me time” – and they will want to do the same for themselves as well.
For more info on helping you and your kids eat healthy every day, Contact Us. And don’t forget to ask about JAB It Up’s Super Powders developed specifically for picky eaters so you can make every food, a healthier food!
And stay tuned for more in our Series on Picky Eaters and what to do about it!