It’s no surprise that you might need some help understanding what it means to help your child develop good healthy eating habits. It can be awfully confusing.
The good news is that you don’t need a degree in nutrition to raise healthy kids. Following some basic guidelines CAN encourage your kids to eat properly and to help them maintain a healthy weight.
It all starts with you.
Your attitude to food and your confidence in instilling good habits early on.
Putting aside ‘fussy eaters’ it’s all about you offering a variety of foods over a number of months that encourages your child to try different foods, different textures and different tastes.
It can take up to 15 times for a child to feel comfortable eating a new food so with that in mind …….
Here are 10 key rules to live by:
- What you do, buy, and offer is important as you control the supply chain! YOU decide which foods to buy and when to serve them. Be prepared because your kids will pester you, nag and whine for crisps, sweets, burgers & for less nutritious foods, & you need to be confident enough to be in charge when deciding which foods are regularly stocked in your house. Kids won’t go hungry. They’ll eat what’s available in the cupboard and fridge at home. If their favourite snack isn’t all that nutritious, you can still buy it once in a while so they don’t feel deprived. The secret is finding a balance.
Don’t let your child control what they eat when they are very young. Offer a limited choice sometimes between an apple or a strawberry but don’t give away your power to a toddler! That’s just plain daft! But I do work with lots of parents who want to ‘please’ their offspring and they give in too quickly. Don’t allow your kids to not eat their healthy dinner but get away with having a pack of crisps half an hour later! The message is that they don’t have to eat dinner and that they’ll get to have something lovely later if they wait!
2. From the foods you offer, allow your children to choose what they will eat or whether to eat at all. Children of course have their own preferences to what they like and dislike & they do need to have some say in the matter. But the secret to healthy eating is to schedule & plan regular meal and snack times. From the LIMITED selections, you offer, let them choose what to eat and how much of it they want. This may seem like a little too much freedom. But if you follow step 1, your kids will be choosing only from the foods you buy and serve. Keep the bigger picture in mind – you are helping to create a happy, healthy adult long term & your child feels a degree of independence and choice.
3. STOP the “clean-plate club.” Let children stop eating when they feel they’ve had enough. I worked as an Assistant to Paul McKenna on his ‘Weight Loss’ Seminars and so many people including myself) grew up under the clean-plate rule, but that approach doesn’t help kids listen to their own bodies when they feel full. When kids notice, and respond to feelings of fullness, they’re less likely to overeat. So look at plate portions and keep it realistic. You know yourself some days you are hungrier than others, so don’t expect your child to clean their plate every time but start to notice the portion size they prefer.
4. Start healthy eating habits early. Food preferences are developed early in life, so offer variety. Likes and dislikes begin forming even when kids are babies. You may need to serve a new food a few different times for a child to accept it. Don’t force a child to eat, but offer a few bites. With older kids, ask them to try one bite. Have friends over, let them enjoy eating as a pleasurable, social event and your child will associate eating with pleasure, fun and conviviality. Make it social.
5. Re-think your child’s menu. Who says that children only want to eat pizza, hot dogs, burgers, chicken nuggets and macaroni cheese? When eating out, let your children explore & try new foods and they might surprise you with their willingness to experiment. You can start by letting them try a little of whatever you ordered or ordering a starter for them to try.
6. Remember that drink calories count. Fizzy drinks and other sweetened drinks add extra calories and get in the way of good nutrition. Water and milk are the best drinks for children. Juice is fine when it’s 100%, but children don’t need much of it — 4 to 6 ounces a day is enough for pre-schoolers and toddlers.
7. Strike a balance around sweets, cakes and biscuits. Of course, occasional sweets & treats are fine, but don’t turn dessert into the main reason for eating dinner. When dessert is the prize for eating dinner, children naturally place more value on the ice cream than the broccoli. Try to stay neutral about foods. Don’t reward your kids for eating their dinner! Just think of the message they are learning from that around food.
8. Comfort Eating. Break the habit that food shows that you love your child. I know that I’m guilty of piling up the roast potatoes when my 24-year-old son comes home but do find better ways to say “I love you.” When foods are used to reward children and to show affection, they may start using food to cope with stress or other emotions. Offer hugs, praise, and attention instead of food treats.
9. Role Model. You are a role model in everything that you say, in how you act, and in how you speak about food. Children do as you do. So be a positive role model and eat healthy yourself. When trying to teach good eating habits, try to set a good example. Choose nutritious snacks, eat at the table, and don’t skip meals. Try and have regular meal times all together as a family. Talk, chat, laugh, share your day and make eating a pleasurable activity not something to be endured. Your attitude to mealtimes is important as kids are picking up on your vibes all the time.
10. DON’T eat in front of the TV. Studies have shown that children and adults who eat in front of the TV aren’t concentrating on the amount of food they are eating, so they tend to over eat. Limit TV and computer time. Research has shown that children who cut down on their TV-watching also reduce their percentage of body fat. When TV and computer time are limited, they’ll find more active things to do. And limiting “screen time” means you’ll have more time to be active together. Get active. Start a weekly ‘ING’ hour or afternoon – cookING, playING, dancING, gardenING, swimmING. Anything with an active ING !
If you need a hand explore my 24 week ‘Toddler System’ that is bursting with ideas, tips & my techniques for raising a happy, confident toddler. I cover fussy eating in more detail, potty training, bedtimes and night terrors through to develop your child’s confidence and independence.
To Be The Best Parent You Can be – Quickly and Easily