At first glance, creating healthy eating habits in children may seem like a complicated task. Only parents understand that, no matter how much they want to look after their children’s wellbeing by instilling in them the importance of maintaining a balanced diet, in the end they will always prefer junk food over fruits and vegetables.
However, what you should know is that this is not an impossible mission, quite the contrary; the first years of a child’s life, specifically up to the age of five, are decisive in shaping what will be their eating behaviors for the rest of their lives. That said, it’s time to put into practice these seven tips for success.
1. Lead by example. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to create habits in your children if you don’t put into practice the advice you want them to follow. Remember that children learn from what they see, so try to lead by example; healthy eating and lifestyle rules should be for everyone at home, not just the little ones.
2. Prepare varied meals. Children get tired of eating the same thing all the time, especially when it comes to foods such as fruits and vegetables. For that reason, the ideal is that you prepare a varied healthy menu for each day that is attractive to them. For example, you can prepare homemade carrot cake for snacks or add toppings to vegetables at lunch.
3. Make mealtime fun. Whenever you have the opportunity, eat together as a family and at the table. Take advantage of the moment to talk with your children about topics of interest to them (not just ask them how they are doing in school). With this, you will make them realize that mealtime can also be enjoyed.
4. Use creativity. Sight plays a fundamental role in what we eat; even adults find a well-decorated dish more attractive than one that is not. In the case of children, try including all kinds of figures and eye-catching colors to capture their attention. It will surely be more fun for them and they will want to eat it all.
5. Involve them. It’s not about always asking them what they want to eat or what they don’t want to eat, but it is about giving them participation. Taking into account their tastes and preferences from time to time will make them feel valued and included, instead of thinking that eating healthy is an imposition.
6. Respect when they are full. A custom deeply rooted in Latino culture is to force children to eat everything on their plate even if they say they are full. Fatal mistake! There is no better indicator of how much food is enough for your little ones than their own bodies. If they tell you they are already full, respect them, as forcing them will only cause confusion as to the limits of how much they should eat.
7. Don’t use food as a punishment. Food is neither a punishment nor a reward; “eating habits must be sacred within the children’s routine, and they must be out of any negotiation, valuation or consequence of other actions”, highlights the Ser Padres website. Establishing food to punish or reward, can create an erroneous concept of food in your children.