Whether your children are younger, older, or somewhere in the middle, healthy eating can be challenging for parents. Every day, we learn about the long-term harm caused by eating processed foods, preservatives, chemicals and sugar. It’s more important than ever to teach children healthy skills.
The good news is that parents don’t need a Ph.D. in nutrition to raise healthy eaters. There are seemingly unlimited helpful resources and apps to help make informed decisions.
Here are seven strategies for healthy eating:
1. Remember, You’re the Parent
This strategy may sound simplistic, but the bottom line is you’re the adult; you buy the food, and you control the pantry. We all want our children to be happy, but if they had their way, it would be McDonald’s breakfast, lunch and dinner. As an adult, you buy the groceries, so your first step is to stock your kitchen with healthy foods. At first, your child might drag their feet, but rest assured they won’t go hungry as they grab that apple or bowl of grapes instead of the regular ice cream, chocolate chip cookies or Pringles.
2. Involve Your Children
Let your child have some input on the process, and if you’re new to the healthy eating game, educate your child on the long-term ramifications of poor eating. Several apps, like Yuka, are free and fun to use and show the hidden ingredients at the grocery store. You can turn finding healthy food choices into a grocery store game.
When at home, allow them to eat free-range style. If you accomplished number one on this list, you have ultimate control of the foods the children will eat. As your child gets older, allow them one night a week to plan and prepare the menu. Children love to cook.
3. Family Meals
Sadly, the evening family meal has gone out of style along with the mullet. It makes sense, with parents having to work harder and harder to make ends meet. According to a Stanford Medical Children’s Health study, eating together promotes more sensible eating habits, which helps family members manage their weight more easily.
4. Start Early
We all know food tastes and preferences are developed early in life. Do yourself a favor and begin the process of healthy eating at a young age. It’s important to offer a wide variety of flavors and textures, making sure that a new food is offered a few different times. Your child won’t like everything but implement a one-bite rule. However, don’t force your child to eat; avoid battles and turning eating into a power struggle.
5. Preparation is the Key
These steps might seem daunting, but anything can be accomplished when you break them into small steps. All successful projects begin with a plan. Make one day a week the official planning day; if your child is old enough, invite them to participate. This weekly planning period might eventually turn into food prep time, where you cut fruits and vegetables, precook and freeze meals, and prepare the menu for the week.
6. Be a Role Model of Healthy Eating
Children may listen to your words, but your actions speak volumes. It’s difficult to ask your child to do away with the Taco Bell when you’re noshing on that Beef Nachobell Grande and Crunchwrap Supreme. When teaching healthy eating habits, try to set the best possible example. Make nutritious choices, eat at the table and don’t skip meals.
7. Beware of Additives, Preservatives and Sugar
Occasional sweets and less-than-healthy foods are acceptable; for many, life without birthday cake isn’t a full life. However, these decidedly unhealthy items should not be dietary staples. Stay neutral and avoid using foods as a “special treat” or reward, as you don’t want your children to use food as a substitute for love and affection.
That being said, the news about additives, preservatives, and sugar grows more ominous each day. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy, “Food Additives and Child Health,” states that some food additives may interfere with hormones, growth and development and put children in danger of obesity.