Does your child refuse to eat anything but chicken nuggets? Do they eat anything they can find except vegetables and fruits? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this article is for you. As parents, our responsibility is to encourage healthy eating habits. How can we do that when our kids refuse to try any new foods? Follow along to find out how.
Should I put my kid on a diet?
Absolutely no diets! A big capital NO. Studies have shown that imposing or encouraging a restricted diet during infancy and teenagehood leads to severe eating disorders in children and adults. Eating disorders are caused by an unhealthy relationship with food that affects the mental health of the individual and requires the attention of a professional to alter it. They are not restricted to models and ballet dancers as depicted in popular media but can affect anyone. That’s why it is important to build a healthy relationship with food for your children from a very young age.
How can parents encourage healthy eating habits in their children?
Nutritionist and dietitian Hitaf Zwein answers this question with 4 guidelines that will make the entire family fall in love with food, in a healthy way! Make sure to apply them to the family and not just the children, or else they will rebel and refuse to comply with the changes.
Establish Healthy Habits
Your responsibility as a parent here is to schedule specific times for meals and snacks throughout the day. Set the times and respect them. This will establish a routine for the whole family. In case of overeating, a schedule will cut down on the number of food consumed by your child, and in case of undereating, a schedule will up your child’s food intake per day to a healthy amount.
As a parent, you should also prepare the food and pay attention to portion sizes for meals. When planning, include meals your kid loves as well as healthy and nutritious ones. Meal planning includes preparing snacks. Provide a wide range of healthy snacks within reach and at eye level. It is important to let your child have freedom of choice when choosing their snacks. Do not forbid junk food, instead transform it into ‘fun’ food. Forbidding chocolate, for example, will lead to binging. If they want to snack on chocolate, add fruits or nuts on the side. Nurture their choices while providing healthy options.
Create Positive Eating Environments
Discourage eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner in front of the TV, at the study desk, or with a phone/tablet in hand. When focused on a task or a screen, paying attention to feelings of fullness is difficult which leads to overeating. Serve meals at the dining table or in the kitchen and eat as a family as much as possible while keeping the mood fun and peaceful. A bad environment will affect eating behavior negatively.
You can also invite your kids to cook with you in the kitchen. Including your kid in the process of food making will awaken their curiosity. They even might try new vegetables or fruits they usually refuse to eat. Assign them age-appropriate tasks and have fun together.
Be role models
As a parent, you play a crucial role in shaping your child’s eating habits. Children mimic adults even in silly and unimportant actions because that is how they learn. It is extremely important to apply to your routine the changes you want your child to follow. In a nutshell, do what you want your kid to do. Eat healthy, stick to a schedule, and snack healthily.
Also, do not talk negatively about your body in front of your child or within earshot. Instead, praise every part of your body as beautiful to encourage self-love in your children, girls or boys.
Avoid expressing any feelings of guilt about ‘ruining your diet’ after eating a meal to avoid influencing your kid’s mind and harm their relationship with food. If you view food as bad, they will see it the same way.
Exercise & Physical Activity
Last, but not least, eating healthy should be paired with physical activity. Enjoy activities as a family. You can go on hikes, play ball, play badminton, ride bicycles, etc. Plan them according to your children’s preferences and keep them fun to encourage your kids to exercise more.
The Bottom Line
Children do not need to be put on strict diets if they do not suffer from extreme health problems. They need guidance and healthy food choices from which to pick. Your role as a parent is to shape your child’s habits by providing this guidance and these choices. Do not forbid food or use snacks as a ‘currency’ for good behavior. Teach your kid to love their body as it is, with all its shapes and all its unique features. Be a good role model and watch how your child will slowly, but surely, develop healthy eating habits for the rest of their lives.