February 9, 2016

by Mankato Clinic

From tying their shoes to talking, children spend a majority of their adolescent life learning. That’s why during those vital years it’s important to teach them smart eating habits, which are the foundation to good health.

To help give them that knowledge, one of the most important things you can do is to make kids feel involved. Engage your child in meal planning, cooking, grocery shopping and promote healthy eating by being positive about food.

For all of us, eating healthy is more than making a food choice; it’s about self-care. If parents can teach children that early on, kids are that much more likely to take care of themselves and to think about the food they’re putting in their body.

Whether you have a newborn, toddler or a teen some of the best strategies to improve nutrition and encourage smart eating habits begins at the dinner table. Having a family meal at least three times a week may have more impact on your children than you think. Research has shown that the more often family’s sit down for a meal together, the better a child performs academically and they are less likely to drink, smoke and have behavioral issues.

Remember that it’s common for children to go through a ‘picky eater’ stage from ages 3-7. Kids enter a prime pickiness phase because their bodies need fewer calories than when they were smaller, but also because they’re trying to gain control of their independence. The most important way to deal with the picky stage is to continue making and plan meals as you normally would. Make sure to offer your child something he/she likes in addition to the food they don’t; by doing this they are more apt to try a new food because they don’t feel overwhelmed.

Because children love ownership and being a part of something fun, have a list of fun recipes on hand where they can make animals out of food; or encourage them to eat different vegetables by calling broccoli ‘trees.’ Additionally, setting ingredients on the table for a taco, pasta or potato bar gives children a choice to their food and helps them feel involved.

By encouraging healthy eating habits now, you can make a huge impact on your children’s lifelong relationship with food and give them the best opportunity to grow into healthy adults.

Check out more healthy eating tips to help make your mealtime less stressful:

  • Limit sweets, candy and desserts to one or two per day
  • Keep offering rejected foods; repeated exposure will help your child try new foods. Provide portions that are appropriate for your child’s age
  • Keep conversation during meals light and positive. Avoid lecturing or over-emphasizing about the benefits of “healthy” foods. Try not to focus on what foods were eaten and how much or if your child is or isn’t eating
  • Trust your child to know their appetite and avoid telling them to eat more if they are full or finished. Avoid bribes or rewards of dessert to get your child to taste or eat more. Avoid punishing or embarrassing your child if he or she eats poorly
  • Create a regular routine with the time and location of meals and snacks

For resources aimed for parents of picky eaters, visit ellynstatterinstitute.org and fearlessfeeding.com. Be sure to check out Tom Rath’s children version of “Eat, Move, Sleep.”  By eating better, moving more and getting healthy sleep, “The Rechargeables” teaches a child how small choices have a profound impact of the quality of each day.