With all of the “healthy” options in grocery stores and at restaurants today, it can be difficult for parents to understand how to maintain a healthy diet for children. But luckily, you don’t need to be an expert in nutrition to raise healthy kids. There are some basic guidelines to help your children make healthy food choices and eat balanced, nutritious meals for kids.
Here are ten tips for parents to help make sure your children are eating healthy:
- As the parent, you’re in control of the food choices and meal times. This means you should be the one making grocery store decisions and telling the family when it’s time for lunch or dinner. It’s no surprise that your children might make unhealthy requests at the grocery store, and attempt to snack between meals. As the adult, you should be the final decision maker on which foods will be available in the house and when meals should be eaten. Keep in mind, your children will eat whatever is in the pantry, so stocking up on healthy kid’s foods will help them make good choices. It’s okay to indulge in dessert occasionally, but you should stay in control of any snack foods or sweets your kids eat.
- Once you’ve decided what foods to offer, let your kids decide how much to eat, and of what. It’s important that your children feel they have a choice in the foods they eat. Snacks and meals should be scheduled, but from the foods you offer, let your kids choose what they want to eat, and how much of it they’d like. This may seem like a lot of freedom, but if you’ve followed Step 1, they’ll be choosing from all healthy meal options.
- Stop enforcing the “clean plate” rule. If your child is full and wants to stop eating before their plate is empty, let them. Many parents grew up obeying the clean plate rule, but that strategy doesn’t give your child the opportunity to listen to their own body and make decisions on when to stop eating if they feel full. If your child learns to respond to being full by not eating more, they’re less likely to develop bad habits like overeating. It’s okay to encourage your child to finish their meal, but remember they don’t have to clear their plate to be eating healthy and getting the nutrition kids need.
- Start them eating right young. Children develop their food preferences early, so give your kid a chance to try lots of different foods. They’ll start forming likes and dislikes even as babies. In order to get your child to like healthy food, you might need to reintroduce it a few times, but don’t force them to eat it if they don’t like it. Try to get your children to like healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, by introducing them a few times.
- Don’t stick to the traditional kid’s menu. Who says kids only want to eat macaroni and cheese and hot dogs? Your child might surprise you with their excitement to try new foods that aren’t usual “kid’s food.” Rather than ordering them a mini pizza or a hamburger at every restaurant, let your kid try new things or nibble off your plate. This will help them develop their likes and dislikes and eat a balanced diet.
- Don’t forget to count the calories in drinks. Several drinks kids like, including soda, juices and other sweetened drinks, might be adding more calories than you think. Don’t let your child derail their good nutrition by loading up on sugar in drinks. Water and milk are great for kids, and juice that’s 100 percent is good in moderation. Other drinks should be served sparingly as a special treat.
- Keep the sweet tooth at bay. Eating the occasional sweet isn’t bad for your child, but dessert shouldn’t take dinner’s place as the main course in a healthy child’s diet. Don’t let your kids get fixated on sweets or use dessert as a bargaining chip for eating dinner – It will teach your kids to value sweets higher than nutritious foods.
- Don’t show your love with food. It’s important to not use foods, especially sweets like candy and ice-cream, to reward your child or show affection. Be sure you’re offering your child the emotional support they need through hugs, praise, attention and listening instead of giving them food or treats to show you care.
- Be a role model. Your children will model your behavior, so if you’re eating healthy and balanced meals, they’ll want to do the same. When trying to teach good eating habits, try to set the best example possible by choosing nutritious snacks, eating at the table and not skipping meals.
- Limit children’s screen time. When kids have too much computer and TV time, they tend to indulge in mindless snacking and may get less physical activity than they need. Research has shown that kids who cut down on TV-watching also reduced their percentage of body fat.