You wouldn’t sign up to run your very first marathon, lace up your shoes and go run 26.2 miles the next day.
So you can’t expect to get your children to eat healthier overnight, either. You shouldn’t expect to be able to go from contributing to poor eating habits to pressing your own olive oil in one day. But just like that marathon, you can work towards a pre-set goal that is realistic to you and your family.
I like to use the karate example. Think about what level of nutrition you are comfortable with and gradually work your way up to a black belt, or settle for blue if that’s what’s reasonable for your family.
Working towards helping your kids eat better is a process. A journey. It’s not a race. So you can slow down. Don’t be so hard on yourself and see if you can pluck a few good ideas from my thoughts below that are reasonable for you.
The last thing you need to do is feel any guilt about the way your kids eat. So pick a few things that you think will work for you and try them. You might be surprised at how well it works.
Here are six things I think parents can do to help their kids eat healthier and develop healthy habits when it comes to eating.
1. Feeling full vs. cleaning the plate
The number-one thing I tell parents they need to focus on is not what you might think. I don’t mention fast food or sodas or even exercise at first. The single most important thing you can do for your children, is teach them to recognize when they are full. It shouldn’t be about a clean plate or a reward for eating everything. It needs to be, “are you full?”
Some 80 percent of parents are trying to get their kids to eat more. We are looking to see if their plate is empty. But the message we want to send to them is “are you satisfied? Are you done?” Not, “Do you want more?” We want them to be cued to hunger and stop when they are satisfied. If you don’t do that, nothing else matters. That’s the hardest thing to learn. It’s a good lesson for adults as well. It’s OK to not want dessert or seconds if you are satisfied.
2. Stop talking. Start doing.
The second biggest mistake I see parents making is talking too much about healthy eating. Ironically, you want your kids to start to recognize what’s healthy and what isn’t, but it’s best not to make a big deal out of it when they are little.
Don’t preach to your kids over and over about family history or label reading. It’s too heavy a weight for a 5-year-old to bear. Parents need to be the gatekeeper, and decipher the information they give to a child.
You can get so much farther with role modeling than you can with talking. It’s like getting them to pick up their socks. The more you talk about it, the less it gets done.
When I work with couples, I’d have a healthy eater who wouldn’t stop talking about the healthy eating. And even I was uncomfortable by the end of the conversation. No adult – let alone a child — wants a drippy faucet saying what you need to do all the time. Don’t talk about it. Just do it.
All foods can fit into a child’s repertoire of food on different levels. Birthday parties have cake and you get candy. It’s one day. Cupcakes are fun. It’s how much and how often that becomes important.
If we are eating cupcakes everyday, that’s not ideal. There isn’t a rule of how often you can have them, but it’s looking at where you are and where you want to be. What you are doing has to measure up with your goal.
I see it all the time where a mom will decide that she has to do something to get her family to eat healthy. She announces it and the kids freak out. She goes to Whole Foods, spends a fortune, cooks and nobody eats it. In my opinion, that’s too extreme.
Instead, say ‘we aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables. Let’s start this week.’ Then, start offering fruit and veggies every day. It’s a great place to start. Look at what is and isn’t working without talking too much about it.
It’s a parent’s job to expose a child to healthy food. We can’t make them like it, but it needs to be a regular, ongoing process.
4. Be a role model
Mom and Dad can’t sit in front of the TV with a coke and large fries and give little Johnny broccoli and expect him to eat it.
Where parents eat their meals is important, too. Nobody eats at the dinner table anymore, it seems. Little ones shouldn’t eat while walking around. They need to learn to sit at the table because it’s part of the meal process. It helps them learn to converse and act like a real person. They learn to not talk with their mouth full and that it’s inappropriate to stick peas up their nose.
Evaluate where your family is and where you’d like to see them be. Maybe you will never eat as a family on a white tablecloth like the Cunninghams did on “Happy Days.” But maybe you can turn the TV off and sit around the coffee table on pillows.
5. Exposure is key
Never assume kids won’t like something they’ve never seen before. I say exposure, exposure, exposure. Put something out there and try not to hover or make a big deal about it. Kids who have the biggest problems often have moms who hover too much.
Keep a mental list of what your kids like and remember that. It can take 10 to 15 introductions before they start to like something. If your child doesn’t like strawberries, try another fruit instead of assuming they don’t like fruit.
Be realistic about serving sizes, too. For a 3-year-old, a tablespoon of spinach might be enough. You can give them more if they want it, but start with small quantities not a pile of food.
Portion sizes are so inflated everywhere you go. We are so super-sized in America, we look at something normal and think it looks puny or inadequate. Even though it might be appropriate.
6. Mix it up
Another fun thing I tell parents to try is to mix things up. Don’t be afraid to stick broccoli next to a cookie. What would happen if I gave my child carrots and a cookie? He’d eat both. He’d eat the cookie first, but he would eat the carrots, too.
We want kids to be normal eaters so they can make good decisions when it’s their turn to make food choices.Share this Article