As parents, we must understand that one of the most lasting influences we can have on our children is helping to develop and shape their eating habits. It is our responsibility to foster healthy attitudes so our children can enjoy a healthy relationship towards food.
During early childhood, many parents just want their child to “eat” and they are not so concerned with what these foods are. However, as children get older, parents start trying to control their intake to what and how much they are consuming.
Some tips for equipping children with good eating habits that will last into adulthood include:
1. Choosing healthy foods over unhealthy ones most of the time.
It is not only what we tell our children, it is what we do. If you want your children to choose fruits and vegetables, we need to model this behavior. Model a peaceful, positive relationship with food. A healthy eating cycle begins with you and will be passed along for generations to come.
2. Stock the house with healthy foods rather than “junk” foods.
Cooking healthy meals at home rather than eating out can make a big difference. More importantly, make them a part of the food preparation. I often let my son select foods from the market and then I involve him in the preparation of foods. It’s important to give age-appropriate jobs in the kitchen. By the time they are teenagers, they may want to make some of the family meals! It is about balance.
3. Children should be able to enjoy “junk” foods and sweets on occasion.
These foods should be allowed and perhaps provided only on special occasions. Instead of stocking these foods in the home, make it a special outing, such as going out for ice cream.
4. Trust their hunger cues.
Children know when they are hungry and when they are full. Do not pressure them to eat more food than they choose. Also, do not use sweets and desserts as incentives for finishing healthy foods. In terms of beverages, offer water, flavored seltzers, low-fat milk or dairy-free substitutes, yogurt drinks (such as Kefir), and 100% fruit juices. Soda and sugary beverages should not be served on a daily basis.