Picture a brussels sprout in your mind.
Whether you’re currently gaging or dreaming about new recipes, you have an opinion. How does such a tiny vegetable elicit such a strong response?
Kids begin to form their opinions about food at a young age. As a parent, you’re responsible for helping your child to form healthy opinions and habits. Your child’s earliest experiences with food will inform what they eat for life.
Ready to raise a healthy eater? It’s never too late to teach your child about healthy eating habits! Read on to learn how to help your child develop healthy eating habits – without tears.
Healthy Eating Habits in Kids
All kids follow unique developmental pathways. Your child’s pathway toward healthy eating will have just as many twists and turns. What your child will encounter on their journey is up to their parents and caregivers.
Encouraging healthy eating habits for children must begin with a critical examination of your own eating habits. Begin by exploring your own behavior around food. Children hear and see everything, and your internal biases can impact their reactions at the table.
Do you have a verbal response when you encounter food that you don’t like? Do you insist on a clean plate? Do you discuss diets or food restrictions where children can hear?
Once you have taken some time to recognize your own language and behavior around food, you can begin to change it in subtle ways.
If you don’t want your child to throw a fit when you serve them vegetables, you shouldn’t throw one, either! If you want your child to notice their body’s fullness cues, don’t insist on a clean plate. If you want your child to select food for its nutritional value and satiating qualities, keep diet talk to a minimum.
You might find that this helps impact your own health and wellness journey in positive ways! Once you have made a few small adjustments, there are a few explicit tips and tricks that you can try.
Eat as a Family
The trope of ‘the family dinner’ has become a trope for a reason! Children need to see how adults eat, interact with, and talk about food. This is how they learn table manners and healthy eating habits.
Even the youngest children can benefit from a seat at a table! Mobile infants and toddlers are observant and love to model behavior that they see. Pull up the highchair and let your little one join the table, especially if they show interest!
Eating together as a family is also a great way to encourage mindfulness surrounding food. The focus should be on food and conversation, not distracting screens and media. This will help children notice fullness and hunger cues and respond to the needs of their bodies.
Some children pick away at meals or avoid their plates altogether, especially if you allow them to play at the table. The family meal should be an efficient affair. All family members should strive to enjoy their meal during a reasonable period of time.
Keeping to a regular, predictable meal schedule can also help children eat mindfully. Kids are naturally drawn to routines, and bodies are, too. With routines in place, your child’s hunger cues will sync up with meal and snack times, and there will be fewer battles at the table.
Children, like adults, can form unconscious biases about what they think they like. A bad experience with spinach might lead to trepidation surrounding broccoli. Provide variety, and encourage tasting, but don’t demand a clear plate.
Remember that children need many exposures to a new food before they can decide if they like it. They might need to see the food on their plate as many as twenty times to form a clear opinion!
Some children do have an anxiety response to certain foods, and this is a normal part of development. Continue to offer these foods, but don’t force-feed or require that they taste anything that is causing distress. Instead, model your own enjoyment, and talk about the positive effects of the food on your body.
For example, you might say, “I like broccoli because it makes my body feel warm and energetic. It helps fill my belly up quicker and makes it easier to go to the bathroom.”
If a child shows an adverse response to a food, take it out of the rotation for a few days or weeks and try again.
Furthermore, do not confuse offering variety with cooking to order. Children should be free to make choices, but not demands. If they only gravitate toward one part of the meal, talk to them about what they liked about it and why.
Over time, you will learn more about your child’s palette. At the same time, your child will begin to learn the importance of healthy eating habits.
Food Is Not a Reward
Never use food as a reward or withhold it as a punishment. This includes requiring children to “earn dessert” by cleaning their plates. You may ask that your child eat some of their meal before serving dessert, but attaching such strong associations to “good foods” and “bad foods” can be damaging.
Furthermore, don’t withhold certain foods, regardless of your child’s body shape or size. Instead, take the opportunity to talk about moderation and “sometimes” foods. Nobody needs to eat ice cream every day, but nobody deserves to live in a world without it!
Healthy Eating Is a Family Affair
Raising healthy eaters begins with a healthy awareness of your own internalized feelings toward food. Once you have acknowledged and addressed those ingrained feelings, you will be on your way to building healthy eating habits in your child. Embrace these tips, and you can raise a healthy eater!
Ingredia is on a mission to encourage healthy eating habits in children and adults across the country. If you would like to learn more, contact us to learn about how we are making dairy products healthier for everyone.