Here’s How To Raise Kids To Eat Healthy
Do my adult children eat healthy? How about their children? If you eat healthy, will you pass on the healthy eating habit and gene? Yes and no. I loved cooking for my children, and now they love food and cooking, too. Are they healthy eaters themselves? Here’s the positive. They do know how they should eat and what they should eat, and they do enjoy most foods. One of Alex’s first favorite meals was mashed avocado and cottage cheese. Will he eat that now? What do you think? Lindsey doesn’t like red peppers. Don’t ask her to.
Do my adult children snack in secret? I would bet the farm on it. What about sugar and bakery goods? That’s another story for another day. As a parent you can only do your best. We know this, though. When parents love colorful vegetables and fruits and serve them with pleasure, children will love them, too. Lindsey loves, loves, loves throwing a bunch of vegetables into a a roasting pan with a little garlic, oil, and salt. In twenty minutes, there’s a colorful and yummy feast to enjoy. Couldn’t be easier.
Why is Healthy Eating A Challenge For Children and Parents
Nutrition is complicated and easy at the same time. As parents, you want your children to have enough protein, healthy fats, vegetables and fruits to feed their bodies and brains. Food is fuel they need it to perform well throughout the day and to grow strong, but how do you help kids eat healthy when commercials and fast foods make them clamor for choices that don’t foster healthy habits?
Let’s just say healthy eating is contagious, and so are unhealthy eating habits. If you are a secret snacker you probably have a hiding place for forbidden foods you don’t want children to eat (for breakfast, lunch, and dinner). But, surprise, your children and dogs and partners know where that hiding place is and how to invade it. Your family and children will sneak and snack in private. It’s a family habit that’s passed on.
Do You Eat Healthy Yourself
Your kids mirror your habits and messaging. If you want your kids to eat vegetables but make them the punishment foods they have to eat to get to the reward foods (cake, candy, bakery goods), they will not want to eat them. Rebellion may start right here with your own food preferences. It’s your messaging that matters. You don’t eat veggies, but want them to? Good luck with that. I have a family member who tells the world he doesn’t eat anything green. Another one doesn’t like anything orange. I remember making a pumpkin cheesecake for Thanksgiving one year. That didn’t go well. When a parent doesn’t like something and won’t eat it, every family member has a chance to become entitled about which foods they will and won’t eat.
Picky eaters have texture issues, raw veggies issues, milk and egg issues. The potential issues kids can have with food are endless. If they are whiners and want only sugar, they will feign illness from all the foods they don’t want to eat. Desperate parents will finally relent. Here’s where eating together and modeling healthy choices can make a difference.
Healthy Eating Habits Tip #1
The first tip is to eat together. When families have time to sit at the table and enjoy food together, parents can model healthy eating with their own food choices. This is also a time when the family can have conversations and put away their devices. Research has shown: families that eat together tend to have emotionally healthier children.
Have A Positive Attitude About Eating Healthy
This is a two-part tip. The first part is don’t demonize any foods. Don’t label foods as healthy or unhealthy because your kids will crave the unhealthy foods. It’s human nature to want what, and bargain for, whatever is considered forbidden and special. Making the “unhealthy” foods rewards, gives kids power over parents. As a society, we tend to celebrate the sugary fatty, high carbohydrate foods (baked goods and salty crunchy food), hold them up as rewards as well as use them as bribes.
Having a healthy attitude means sending the messages that vegetables and fruits are delicious, not that they are good for you. Do you think fruits and vegetables are delicious? Fruits and vegetables have sugar, vitamin galore and couldn’t be more attractive.
Let Veggies Reign
Many recipes encourage home cooks to use applesauce or zucchini or carrots in baked goods. Who doesn’t love carrot cake or chocolate cake made with applesauce or zucchini? They’re delicious but still cake. Don’t kid yourself. Cake is cake. If you think your kids can have cake and have their veggies, too, you are still glorifying sweets over healthy. So here, hon’t disguise veggies as something else. Let them sing on their own.
Your tip #3 is to glorify veggies as special and delicious. You can air fry, stir fry, pan bake, use veggies in pasta and as for dips instead of chips. Roasted potatoes with a touch of butter or olive oil are just as delicious as deep fried. Below are sweet potato chips made in the air fryer.
Cook Together, Let Them Help
Tip #4 is a no-brainer. Kids love creative activities. Reading a cookbook together or searching online and choosing a recipe allows kids have the fun of participation. You can even make it a two-part project which includes shopping for the ingredients you need. Cooking projects with your kids, even if you don’t love cooking yourself, brings you together. Preparing food together launches a lifetime of appreciation for how cooking is problem solving and chemistry, and provides many rewards when you sit down to eat the end result.
One easy example: let your kids make their own pizzas with English muffins, tomato, sauce, cheeses and toppings of their choice. We did this as afternoon snacks after school. You can also make peanut butter sandwiches in shapes. The potential for food fun with kids is endless.
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