Diabetics know that positive food choices are essential to our health… but what about that of our children or grandchildren? Do you have picky eaters, or sneaky snackers? It is so important to foster healthy choices in childhood, as those early years are absolutely crucial to determining lifelong health.
The foods we are taught (and allowed) to eat as children become the foundation of our diets as adults. If you think back on your childhood, are the foods you loved then still some of your favorites even now? Do the foods you were “forced” to eat as a child ever make an appearance on your plate… no? See, it’s true! We learn very early on what we like and what we don’t, and those likes and dislikes follow us for the rest of our lives.
By saying no to sugary, junk foods on your own plate and replacing them with nutritious foods, you are encouraging the children watching (and they are always watching) to do the same with their plates.
When it comes to getting kids to eat healthier, it’s crucial for the adults to be good role models. You can’t simply talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. If kiddos feel that you are not holding yourself to the standard you are trying to hold them to, they will immediately disengage and you’ll be out of luck. After all, how can you convince someone else to do something that you yourself are not willing to do?
While you’re at it, toss out the threats and the bribes. Sending children to bed without their supper is not constructive nor is it helpful. Neither is giving up your role as the adult by catering to their every culinary whim. Luckily, with the following tips, threats and bribes should never be necessary!
Now, don’t be afraid. Healthy foods can (and should be) fun! Have you ever been told “Don’t play with your food!” While this statement is correctly applicable to food fights, forget it when it comes to feeding the kids. Try making a “game” out of which foods they have on their plate.
For example, “How many different colors are on your plate? Did you know that the more color a food has, the better it is for you, and the better it tastes! Which are your favorite colors to eat?”
This simple “game” teaches children to choose foods that are vibrant in color and high in nutrition like bell peppers, fresh berries, and sweet potatoes, instead of beige or white foods without nutrients like potatoes, white rice, and pasta.
Children like to choose what they eat. It helps them to feel more independent and in control of themselves. They key is to allow them to choose between two healthy options.
For example, “Would you rather have broccoli or asparagus with our chicken tonight?” “We’re having fish for dinner, would you like mahi or salmon?” “Would you like to try a little pineapple salsa on your mahi, I can put it on the side?” This fosters the child’s independence while teaching them to take responsibility for the foods they choose to eat.
This next tip is a game-changer. By getting them involved in menu selection, grocery shopping, and meal preparation, children feel even more independent, as well as, valued for their tangible contributions to the family. They also develop a sense of pride and ownership over the foods they helped to select and prepare. This makes them much more likely to eat what’s on their plate – because they helped put it there!
These planted seeds will grow as the children age. When they go for a sleepover at a friend’s house, will they eat 5 slices of pizza and snack on candy, or will they eat one slice of pizza and a small salad with popcorn as a snack?
When they go off to college and have to fend for themselves will they eat macaroni and cheese every day because that is the only food they know how to make in their dorm? Or will they enjoy a healthy, balanced diet because they have been planning their menus, grocery shopping, and preparing meals for years already? One day will they choose to feed their children the way you chose to feed them?
Those questions are not answered at the time, the answers are determined years before while they are children! It’s up to you to set that foundation now to ensure they value nutrition and health as highly as you do. Good luck!