We all want the best for our children but how do we know if we are getting it right? The good news is that by following some very basic guidelines you can help encourage your kids to eat well and develop healthy habits for a happy life.
Guide family choices
- Be the best role model you possibly can. There is a definite connection between a parent and child’s eating behaviours such as what and why they eat as well as body satisfaction. Good role modelling is vital to teaching your child the value of healthy eating habits.
- Give your cupboards and fridge a spring clean. Try to stock the healthier foods at home and leave the junk food at the store! If its not there it won’t tempt you or your kids. If you feel you must have some treats at home, keep them out of sight (right at the back of a cupboard or at the top of the fridge so that they are not the first foods you see when you are ‘looking’ for food). Have the healthier foods on display and easy to reach. This does not mean you cannot ever have treats, but buy them occasionally and enjoy them after a good workout.
Be smart and start these practices early, as it becomes very difficult to change children’s’ habits or persuade them to eat healthier foods after 10-12 years of age.
Get the kids involved
- Take the kids with you to the supermarket and let them choose a fruit or vegetable to incorporate into the week’s meals.
- Get them involved with the meal preparation. They can help to decide on the supper menus for the week, write the grocery list, learn to set the table, and help with the actual cooking too. As they get older encourage them to read recipes and come up with new and interesting dishes.
Eat meals as a family
- Start having family dinners together. Research has shown that having family meals results not only in healthier children but happier and more successful children! Family meals encourage communication and often lead to higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, calcium and fibre and lower amounts of unhealthy fats, sugar, and salt. Studies also indicate that adolescent girls who eat with their families are less prone to use cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs.
- Use breakfast as a possible family time. We all know how important a well-balanced breakfast is for good school performance. So why not do both breakfast and dinner together?
No TV meals
The biggest problem with eating in front of the TV is that the eating becomes mindless, and this means that children do not really taste the food or register what they are eating. Children are generally in tune with their internal cues of hunger so we need to nurture these cues by encouraging mindful eating. This includes encouraging children to eat slowly, letting them portion their own meals (preferably using smaller plates and bowls), and letting them leave food on the plate. These habits are easier to foster when not watching TV!
Many children get more than 20% of their daily calories from their drinks. This is a huge concern, especially when the majority of them are sugary cool drinks. Drinks do not promote satiety compared to eating food as they do not contain fibre, and so it is very easy to have too many calories. Cool drinks are also ‘empty’ calories as they contain nothing but sugar. Encourage your children to drink more water. You can jazz this up by adding some lemon, mint, lime, cucumber or berries, or freeze fruit juice in ice cubes and add one or two of these into the water. Although fruit juice contains important vitamins, it also has a lot of sugar and no fibre. If your child does drink fruit juice, keep it to 1-2 glasses per day and always dilute it with lots of water.
Don’t reward with food
- When food is used to reward children and show affection, children tend to start using food to cope with their emotions. Rather find other ways to reward good behaviour. Use hugs, praise, and attention instead of sweet treats.
- Similarly, restricting foods and especially treats as punishment may lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.
Starting early is ideal, but don’t fear if your kids are older. Introduce small changes, slowly over time and every little bit will help. Start by making sure that you model the right behaviour, encourage health and wellness and introduce family meals. The result: a happy, healthier family!