If you’re like most parents, you want your children to grow up healthy, strong, and happy — and you may be worried that you won’t be able to teach them healthy eating habits. Most children seem to have a natural preference for foods and beverages that are high in sugar and fat, and parents often struggle with getting them to even try healthier alternatives. Teaching healthy food habits doesn’t have to be a battle, though. Here’s what you can do to help your child learn positive eating habits.
Involve Children in Food Shopping
Children are more likely to want to try different foods if they’re involved in the shopping and selection process. Once children are out of the toddler stage, taking them for short shopping trips to the supermarket can spark an early interest in food, and even young children can help pick out their favorite fruits. Another way to engage children in food shopping is to make visits to your local farmers market a regular family activity.
Involve Your Children in Meal Preparation
Even children as young as six or seven can help with simple meal preparation tasks. Keep in mind that the point of this is to create positive associations, so make it a pleasant, happy time. Young children can help wash fruits and vegetables, while those over seven with better fine-motor skills can peel potatoes, make salads, and mix basic ingredients. Children over the age of 12 should be able to prepare simple meals themselves.
Eat Meals as a Family
Eating as many meals together gives parents and older siblings a chance to model good eating habits. Family meals provide another opportunity to create positive associations around food. This should be a low-stress time of day, so don’t make a big deal out of it if your child refuses to eat certain foods.
Plant a Family Garden
Because children are naturally curious, growing a family garden provides an excellent way to get their attention in a good way — and they’ll be far more likely to want to eat produce from the garden than its counterpart from the supermarket. Freshly picked food grown in home gardens tends to taste much better than grocery store fare and is more nutritious.
Avoid Forbidding Treats and Sweets
Children are typically drawn to anything that’s forbidden, so telling them they can’t have certain food items usually backfires. This doesn’t mean they should be allowed to gorge on whatever they like — it’s okay to tell them they can’t have that second piece of cake. Just keep in mind that forbidding cake altogether will only make them want it more.
Keep in mind that the big picture is what really counts here. Occasional sweets and treats won’t do your child any harm when balanced with an overall healthy diet.