In a world where a toy comes with every high calorie kid’s meal, getting your children to eat healthier may seem impossible.
They may have spent years eating French fries and deep fried chicken; asking them to transition to hummus and tofu burgers overnight is sure to create a struggle. Child obesity rates are climbing and the number of teens diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes has skyrocketed. It is important to teach children healthy eating habits now to prevent a lifetime of unhealthy behaviors.
Here’s how to do it without parent or child meltdowns.
Give Kids a Choice
Shoving a plateful of broccoli under your child’s nose at dinnertime is not going to yield many positive results. Instead of forcing them to eat a new food, give them a choice. While grocery shopping, ask them to pick out vegetables to go with dinner, a healthy snack for after school or an exotic fruit they have never tried. They are far more likely to try new foods if they have selected them on their own.
Teach Kids to Become Healthy Chefs
Instead of cooking dinner on your own, allow your children to help. Teach them to prepare simple, age-appropriate dishes peppered with healthy grains, fruits and veggies. Older children will be able to slice and dice while younger kids can season and stir. Kids will love to eat their own creations regardless of the ingredients.
Make Healthy Food Fun
When kids turn up their noses at healthy food it often becomes necessary to change the way the dish is presented. Instead of offering a plate of fresh fruit, make a kabob with brightly colored melons, strawberries and grapes. Kids will eat nearly anything on a stick! Present several different types of raw vegetables and encourage children to play with their food.
Fresh broccoli can be made into a forest while sugar snap peas can be formed into pictures or words. Insist they eat their creations when they have finished.
Show Them How Good Fresh Can Be!
Kids often shun the unknown. For a child raised on processed food and sugary sodas, healthy food can be genuinely scary. Show them it’s not all bad. Make their favorite muffins from scratch and include fresh fruit in the mix. Fix a veggie burger complete with toppings. Proving that kids do not need to sacrifice taste in order to eat better is a huge step in the right direction.
Beware of the Beverage
A large portion of your child’s calories could come from sugary sodas and juice. Three sodas per day can easily exceed 600 calories. Depending on your child’s age, this can account for a full third of their recommended daily allowance! Replace these drinks with small portions of fresh squeezed juices and plenty of water. Artificial sweeteners can be sweeter than sugar and train young taste buds to crave sweetness, so try to avoid artificial sweeteners as well as sugar.
Forcing children to eat healthy should not be the main goal; rather, you should teach your child to eat healthy of their own accord. Children who are regularly exposed to a well balanced diet will make good choices even while not under parental supervision. Teaching your children to eat right early will encourage a lifetime of healthy behavior.
Erica Hill is writing on behalf of Gaiam TV, a healthy lifestyle media company based in Boulder, Colorado that focuses on living well and provides resources such as on demand workout videos.