Kids! Some of the pickiest eaters I’ve ever met. Getting them to eat healthy can be tricky for sure. I don’t have my own but for over 10 years I’ve been a teacher, an aide, and/or a nanny and I’ve found myself looking over the shoulder of hundreds of different children as they eat during the day. I truly believe childhood sets the stage for our lives and that includes which eating habits we adopt. So how can you set your kids up for success rather than a lifetime of battling their weight and health?
1. Be an Example
The number one and most important thing you can do is show them how by doing it yourself! Your kids only have you as a reference on how to do this whole life thing. At least in the beginning. If I ever want a child to adopt a new behavior, I do it first. Eat your vegetables, drink lots of water, say no to sugar and soon you may notice your kids following suit without you having to beg them. They just want to be like you!
2. Don't Give Them an Option
Always provide food for your children, but never feel guilty for not providing foods that they like better than the healthy stuff. If there are 5 options for snacks that are healthy (carrots, cheese sticks, fresh fruit, etc.) then they can choose, and they will choose one if they are actually hungry. But if there’s the option to eat ice cream or chips, then what do you think they are going to do? Let them make a choice, but make any choice available the right one.
3. Don't Buy Junk
Kids will sneak behind your back, climb up the counters, and hide the good snacks in a secret spot. I’ve seen it all. If it’s in the house, they will get to it. If you’re having trouble keeping your kids' hands out of the cookie jar then stop letting cookies in the house at all! I do this to myself! If you want to give you or your kids a treat once in a while, make it a rule that you go out for dessert and don’t bring it home. That once in a while treat should never hit the grocery cart. This teaches them that high sugar foods are not for everyday eating.
4. Eat at the Table
Try to have your kids eat as many meals or snacks at a table as you can. I know this may not always be realistic, but let me tell you why this is a good idea. Kids will learn to associate things with food. If you let them eat while watching TV, they very well may start feeling hungry every time the TV gets flipped on. Do you let them eat in the car? See if they ask for food whenever the car gets going. Are you in the habit of grabbing sugary drinks at every gas station stop? Watch them suddenly get unbearably thirsty for chocolate milk whenever you stop for gas and don’t offer it to them. This may not be true in every case, but having them sit at a table gives them the mindfulness to set aside time for eating only and to enjoy the food in front of them instead of mindlessly popping snacks into their chomper out of habit.
5. Drink Water First
“If you think you’re hungry, you might just be thirsty” is a phrase I find myself saying constantly. Kids will eat a good sized meal sometimes and insist they are still hungry, or you may find that they are constantly snacking all day. Before I let a child in my care grab another snack, I ask them to drink a full glass of water first and if they are still hungry they can have a snack. This is such a good habit to develop even for adults. Staying hydrated is so important and getting in the habit of drinking your water makes a difference; I know I eat much less when I’m drinking more water!
You love your kids and you only want the best for them! Try some or all of these tricks if you know your family needs to make a change before it’s too late. If there’s any one thing I hope you take away from this it’s that your child's health starts with your own and they can’t do this without your commitment to yourself as well.