Teaching our kids to eat healthy food and in the proper quantities is essential for their health. This also ties into their self-esteem, the way they process their problems, and their ability to view food as a tool to health instead of a crutch.
Here are some tried and true tips that will help you to maintain a healthy child-food relationship. Done well, these tips will serve them well for a lifetime.
1. Never restrict foods
It is proven that children who develop eating disorders, often have had their food restricted by well-meaning parents. This is not the same as having rules. For example, a rule may be, not snacking within an hour of dinner. That is a reasonable rule. A restriction is, “you may only have 6 potato chips and not more than twice per week”. If a child has eaten a full, healthy meal, you can let them have it their way and enjoy a small sugary treat or if they are having a birthday party, for example.
If it is necessary to restrict a particular food, it is a better option to not have that food in the house. Have healthy food choices available and your kid will eat them.
2. Do not nag
Nothing turns off the human ears faster than nagging. Continually harping on your child “giving up snacking” or questioning them about the foods they ate while visiting someone does nothing to reinforce your opinion. It simply destroys the child’s self-esteem. Praise them for good steps taken. Glorify their efforts to improve their eating habits. Understand it was you and not them that allowed these bad habits to take root and it will be a group effort to correct them.
3. Set a good example
If you want your child to eat healthier, then they must see you eating healthier options. Let them know this is an important quest for every family member. An added bonus is that you can prepare foods in a healthy way, saving them a lot of secondary problems.
4. Be creative and let them help
When you are making a new food or even getting creative with a familiar one, let the kids help you decide what to add. Teach them the difference between different apples, berries, lettuce and more.
5. NEVER use food as a reward
Let’s face it. Food is almost always part of our reward system. But make sure it is not in the spotlight. If their reward is pizza and a movie, put the focus on the movie. You can still have your pizza but make the reward “Movie night”. This simple change changes the way we think of our rewards. As an adult, you may treat yourself to a milkshake because you worked out every day this week. Your adult brain can process that. A child’s brain will register that as, “if I want ice cream, I have to go to the gym with mom every day.”
6. Set realistic goals
Do not try to make all the changes at once. Dramatic changes cause panic in children.
7. Limit the amount of time children are allowed to watch television, play video games, or use the computer.
Reduce the time by 15 minutes every other day until you have the time down to a reasonable amount.
8. Let them help in the kitchen
This gives you plenty of face to face time to teach them to prepare foods in a healthy way.
9. Let them choose physical activity they enjoy
This means allowing them to try a lot of things before they or you decide what to put them in. Encourage them to be bold. They may enjoy hip-hop dance more than football or biking more than swimming. Let them develop their own interests.
10. Dinner time is family time
Get back to the old fashioned concept of connecting over a meal every day. Show interest in their lives and let them know about yours. This allows them to see how important healthy eating is to you. Dinner time is a sharing experience. Share your meal, your good habits, and your life with your children.