7 Steps to Giving Your Kids a Healthy Relationship with FoodJan
1/26/2012 9:20 AM
We've spent quite a bit of our 12 days together talking about food. But it's not just what you eat that can change the way you feel - how you eat is just as important. If trying to get your kids to eat well is stressing you out, take a few minutes to check out this guest post from healthy food blogger Amelia Winslow.
Many of us were raised hearing things like “You’re not getting up from this table until you finish your lima beans!” or “Eat all your peas or there will be no dessert for you, young lady!” on any given evening. Our parents weren’t militant, they were just traditional – because in previous decades, food scarcity was a real issue and our parents wanted our bellies full.
But times have changed. With so many American children overweight and struggling with weight-related health problems or body image issues, the “clean your plate” philosophy is no longer appropriate. It’s time to update our parenting strategies to encourage children to eat healthy but also have a healthy relationship with food.
Of course there are many theories on how to raise healthy eaters. The following are my own thoughts on how to help your kids enjoy healthy food without making mealtime a battleground.
- Don’t make food a big deal. It’s not worth it. Both you and your child want mealtime to be a positive experience, and if you fight about what/how much/when to eat every time food appears, it will be hard to show your kids that a healthy relationship with food is possible. All kids go through phases in their food tastes and appetites, and if you’re somewhat flexible with them, they won’t constantly struggle with you to regain some control over their own hunger.
- Model good eating habits. Growing up, my brother rarely ate anything besides cereal, Haagen Dazs, and fruit. He just wasn’t interested in other foods. My mom gave up fighting him, but she continued to prepare healthy meals for the rest of us which we ate together every night (my brother sat at the table too with his bowl of Kix). Over time, he began to try new foods, and now at 28, he buys all the same groceries that my mom kept around when we were young – including kale, squash, and plain kefir! So remember that even if your kids aren’t eating what you eat, they’re still watching you and will one day be likely to model your eating behavior.
- Involve kids in shopping and meal planning. Turn veggie-eating into an adventure by letting your kids loose at the farmer’s market or in the produce section and allowing them to pick one thing they want each week. Then involve them in the preparation of their item. They’ll be much more likely to try and enjoy whatever they’ve selected, and will find food preparation fun.
- Appeal to kid tastes. Kids often like crunchy raw veggies with dips, or cooked veggies topped with cheese or butter. No need to fight this! Try serving these types of things at meal time and your kids will be more likely to try new healthy foods. Here are some easy dip recipes, or you can go crazy and make this Cheetos-topped broccoli (you can replace cream with whole milk), or try these stuffed sweet potatoes, which can be altered to suit your family’s taste.
- Avoid using foods as rewards or punishments. The days of saying “if you eat all of ___ , you can have dessert” are over. Using treat foods as rewards or “healthy” foods as punishment does not promote a healthy relationship with food. Think of non-food ways to reward your child when she does something good, and try to avoid making her eat something she doesn’t want to as means of “earning” something else.
- Deal with dessert. Many families find dessert time a challenge. Avoid battles by deciding whether you’ll have a few “dessert nights” each week (on designated nights) where everyone gets a treat regardless of what they ate for dinner, whether you’ll allow “one treat per day,” or some other household policy you feel comfortable with. And remember, what “dessert” means is up to you – so stock up on things you want your kids eating, like frozen kefir with berries, smoothies, or little handfuls of trail mix. You get to decide what a treat is!
- Set limits. You’re the parent, and you’re in charge. This is your kitchen and your money buying food, so you have a lot of control over what you bring into your home in the first place. Decide what kinds of foods you feel comfortable keeping around the house, and stick to it. It’s important to make eating enjoyable and fun, but it’s also important that your kids know who rules the roost!
Eating routines are different in every household, and most of us turn out OK, so don’t fret too much if these tips are far from what you’re currently doing. If you’re up for making some changes to promote your family’s healthy relationship with food, start with one tip at a time; once it’s mastered you can begin to work on another one. Before long, you’ll have some systems in place that work well for both you and your kids.
Amelia Winslow is a nutritionist, food lover, new mom, and the founder of Eating Made Easy, a blog that makes healthy eating easier for busy people. Get recipes, food news, nutrition tips, answers to your burning questions and more on Eating-Eade-Easy.com.
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