Did you know that 34% of children and adolescents consume fast food on any given day? In fact, Americans spend $200 billion dollars annually on fast food. If you are ready to improve that, learn 5 ways to make a difference and encourage healthy eating for your kids today!
We live in a time when everyone has busy schedules and convenience food wins out most nights. I know our family experiences this all the time! Yet, as a parent, you want what’s best for your child and family, which includes providing healthy eating for your kids.
While I’m guessing we all know that healthy meals are important, but you can read The 5 Benefits of Clean Living and Clean Eating: How to Get Started Eating a Clean Diet for more information.
Even when we know why it’s important to eat healthy meals, life gets busy and it’s hard to find the time to cook healthy meals each day. This is true whether you are a stay-at-home parent, a working parent, or a working woman or man – period. Life gets hectic! Yet, healthy eating for kids can help them achieve ideal weight, avoid or heal certain health issues, and fuel their body and brains.
On top of being busy, there are lots of other reasons why it’s difficult to find time to cook nutritious meals. I know in my situation with our three daughters, we were faced with the challenge of having “picky eaters,” as some would call it. Yet, our girls were beyond picky. In fact, their issues with eating were due to medical reasons, such as rare food allergies, GI disorders, selective food choices due to Autism, and other rare medical conditions. Some of these circumstances even led to two of girls needing feeding tubes. One was temporary and one is still in use.
So I get it! I did everything in my power to get my children to eat and I’m talking about eating ANYTHING! I would have given my left arm for my girls to eat at McDonald’s or to eat pizza at a birthday party. They wouldn’t come near it! In hindsight, I know that’s not such a bad thing. Yet, I just wanted them to be able to eat and enjoy social gatherings like the other children. I wanted them to be flexible eaters so they could eat when we were away from home, and also eat a healthy meal that I provided when we were at home.
We enlisted the help of many doctors, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and ABA therapists to help our girls eat over the years. While it was worth it and the girls made a lot of progress, it’s still an uphill battle some days.
I know many parents have similar struggles and goals for their children. Over the years, these are 5 ways I’ve learned to encourage healthy eating for kids.
1. Be a role model.
Children learn by watching their parents. You are your child’s very first teacher! Children pay attention to and observe everything around them. So the best way to teach them is to do eat healthy yourself. Every morning my children watch me make a green smoothie (and cover their ears when it’s time to blend). While they are not quite on board yet with drinking their own green smoothies, they have tried sips and that’s a great start. Many experts say it can take 10-15 times for a child to try a new food before they like it. So keep modeling how yummy healthy food is!
2. Cook meals at home.
This seems like an obvious tip with regards to healthy eating, but I also know that it can be difficult with busy schedules and little time for cooking some days. The best way to overcome these challenges is to prepare ingredients or meals ahead of time! Meal prep and planning will make cooking at home a lot easier to accomplish. I find that planning out at least 3 home-cooked meals per week is a good goal for our family. This allows us to be flexible when plans need to change and to eat leftovers on those extra busy days. Preparing meals ahead to pop in the oven, using the crockpot or Instant pot, and chopping vegetables ahead of time make cooking meals at home more achievable.
3. Make healthy snacks available.
Have healthy snacks ready and available to your children and limit sweets and junk food in your pantry. When unhealthy choices are removed from the cabinets and pantry, your children will learn to eat what is made available to them. Also, provide variety and a little fun sometimes, such as these apple “doughnuts” by Joy Bauer as an after-school snack. I made some of my own and experimented with different toppings. The sky is the limit! (Clockwise from upper left: coconut flakes, cinnamon, and sunflower seeds and pepitas.)
4. Eat healthy meals together as a family.
The more often you can eat together as a family, the better. Again, this goes back to the tip about being a good role model. If your children see you eating healthy food choices, they will be more willing to try it. There’s no better way then when you are all sitting and dining together. If they seem hesitant to try a new food or don’t like their food touching, I highly recommend trying the Food Cubby. This semicircle suctions right to your plate, is BPA-free, and made from food-grade silicone. It’s great for keeping foods separated, portion control, and can even help toddlers who have a hard time using utensils – just scoop against the wall of the Food Cubby. I find that my daughters will tolerate new food on their plate if it’s separated and not touching their other food. Often times, the first step in trying new foods for kids is just being able to tolerate it being on their plate!
5. Involve kids when planning and cooking meals.
Another great tip for picky eaters or those who are hesitant to try new foods is to get them involved in the meal prep! When kids feel like they are given a choice – even if the choices are healthy and pre-selected by you – they will feel they have some control over the situation and be more willing to give a new food a try. It also helps when they are able to cook or prepare the meal with you. The ownership and curiosity tend to get them more excited about taking that first bite – which I find to be the biggest hurdle sometimes. Often, they will like it once they try it!
These 5 ways to encourage healthy eating for kids have helped our family tremendously, along with a little patience. Even when faced with selective eaters, low appetite, and just general pickiness, our daughters have made huge strides at mealtime and eat much healthier, well-balanced meals at home. I am sure that these tips can help your family too!
Do you have tips or tricks that work for your family? Do you have favorite healthy meals, snacks or resources to share? I would love to hear from you!
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