February 9, 2012

How to get your kids to eat healthy

I guess this post would be more aptly titled, "How I get MY kids to eat healthy" because I can only speak about what works for myself and my family.  I know every situation is as different as each child is and you definitely have to do what works for you.  That being said, I don't think getting your kids to eat healthy has to be hard and you'll probably find alot of my suggestions useful and hopefully inspiring.  I hope this post encourages you to not lose heart as you try to make healthy eating a habit in your home.  You got this!

We all know that our kids mimic the behaviour we put in front of them through our own actions.  This is no exception when it comes to eating.  The easiest way to get your kids to eat healthy is for you to start eating healthy and make it a habit that they can see.

Don't give up.  If you want your child to learn to eat salad (for example), you need to offer it to them regularly and ignore each time they turn their noses up to it.  My daughter generally doesn't like onions and will often look at them with disgust and make her comment of disapproval.  I cook with them so often that I'm not about to give up.  I tell her calmly that she will learn to like them one day and I keep offering them to her, but never force her to eat them.  If they are part of the meal and she refuses to eat them, she has to remove them and eat the rest of the food.  My consistency has paid off in this area because she now eats the onions in most meals without even a flinch.

Be consistent, but do NOT make eating time a battle in your home.  You cannot force-feed your children.  The goal is to get them to enjoy eating healthy, but if it becomes a struggle you have already lost sight of your goal.  You don't want your child associating healthy food with negative feelings.  That being said, I do "force-feed" my one year old, in a sense.  If he turns away from a food he's never tried before, I will gently coax him, in whatever way I can, to get the food in his mouth - sometimes tricking him into opening his mouth.  I know if he tastes it, 9 times out of 10 he will like it and reach for more.  If he happens to spit it out, I leave it alone until the next opportunity.

You don't really need to spend hours in the kitchen every day carving your veggies into cute animals in order for your kids to eat them.  Just make the whole experience fun.  It's the attitude behind it that counts.  The more you can get your kids to associate eating healthy with positive feelings and a sense of well-being, the more they will gravitate towards those foods without being coaxed.

I have heard many parents say something like, "I'm not a short-order cook." or "I will never be my kid's personal chef."...but I've seen it happen way too many times.  The kid won't eat the food he's given, so the parent gets nervous that he will go hungry or be malnourished, so they end up giving him what he wants.  I do understand that sometimes you just have to let go a little.  Kids go through stages.  Lately my son has been on this weird kick.  He would eat pb&j sandwiches at every meal if I let him.  And when I ask him what he would like to eat, more often than not, he will ask for this.  But the most he ever gets of good ole pb&j is one sandwich a day in his lunch (oh and it's not even real pb...he can't tell...lol).  He eats what the rest of us eat at regular mealtimes.  Period.  If he refuses supper, he goes to bed hungry.  If I'm worried he'll wake up in the night starving, I give him a plain piece of bread before bed, or something very bland but filling.  The point is, you are the leader here.  Don't allow picky eating.

In an ideal world, we would all start the habit of feeding our kids healthy food from day one.  I'm a huge advocate of breastfeeding your baby and making your own baby food.  The more good foods you can offer them at a younger age, the more accustomed they will be to this way of eating later on.  Simply put, if healthy eating is a normal thing in your home, your kids will fall into that, by default.  Plus, it has been said that you only crave what is already in your bloodstream, so make sure there's a constant supply of good stuff going in, and that's what you (and your children) will crave.

You care about your family's health and you want your children to grow up strong, energetic and full of a passion for life.  You do, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this.  So I believe this is one area of life where we as parents should be vigilant and purposeful - wise as serpents, harmless as doves.  Strength and patience are vital tools on this adventure.  We should take charge and be the leaders that we are.  If you are the one making most of the meals and doing the grocery shopping, you actually have the ability (and the responsibility) to steer the ship, so-to-speak.  You can do this.  And there are more resources out there, than ever before, that can help you on your nutritional journey.

What if healthy eating is a relatively new thing for you?  What if your kids have been used to packaged, processed, sugary, fast-food, foods?  How do you make the switch?  Slowly.  Unless your children are under the age of 2, I would highly recommend introducing newer, healthier foods in a gradual, but consistent format.  This is also the most effective way of changing your own eating habits.  Try to avoid "clearing the pantry" and quitting your regular foods all at once.  No offense, but that behaviour is generally for dieters.  And I'm going to guess that dieting is probably not a pattern you want your kids to fall into.  Ugh.  Keeping a no-big-deal, normal, calm and patient attitude about changing food habits is key.  Try replacing key ingredients in the foods your family is already used to eating, with ones they won't catch onto right away.  You will have less of a struggle and everyone will be happier.
Some related ideas..
- Instead of going for canned soups or frozen pizzas for convenience, try thinking ahead and making your own from scratch.  Soups are really cheap and easy to make and they freeze quite well.  You can make an entire slow-cooker full and then freeze the rest in individual freezer bags, ready to pop into a pot for something quick to eat.

- Replace "unnoticeable" ingredients with more healthy options, like adding black beans to your brownies, or pureed carrots to your spaghetti sauce.

- When all else fails, make a smoothie.  I'm not even joking.  If you want your kids to enjoy healthy food, you need to make it enjoyable for them.  Get the nutrients in there however you can.  Smoothies are one of the best things you can make for your kids.  There are so many tasty options for making delicious smoothies, and you can throw a whole salad's worth of greens in there and they won't even notice.  One of our daily habits is to slug back a good blueberry banana smoothie (with added coconut milk and greens of all sorts) as an after-school snack.  I am happy cause my kids are getting a truck-load of nutrients in one shot, after a long day, and they are excited cause they get an amazing treat.  Smoothies are a great healthy option to start with if you are trying to ease your family into healthier eating.  You don't have to give up delicious just to have nutritious.  And like I said before, if it's in your bloodstream, you'll crave it...so do what you can to get the good stuff in.

Happy, healthy eating this week!  You're gonna feel great!

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