The eating habits your children observe and experience when they are young will help them maintain a healthy lifestyle when they are adults. The best time to start teaching these lessons to children is when they’re young, before unhealthy choices become lifelong bad habits. When you want to pass on healthy habits to your kids, it’s important to practice what you preach.
Children in the United States are gaining more weight than ever before. They’re eating too much high-sugar, heavily processed food and are spending less time being physically active. Weight problems that develop during childhood can lead to weight-related illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Here are a few tips to teach your child healthy eating habits:
- Involve your children in food shopping and preparing meals. These activities will provide an opportunity to teach your children about nutrition and provide a feeling of accomplishment. In addition, children may be more willing to eat or try new, healthier foods that they help plan and prepare.
- Teach your children to dissect food labels. Help them identify harmful ingredients, such as trans fats, preservatives, food dyes, etc. If you’re unsure about one or more ingredients, go to the computer together to research. Avoid all processed and packaged foods, added sugars and artificial sweeteners. Did you know sugar can be listed in 100+ different ways on a label?
- Build your meals around lean protein sources, vegetables, and naturally-occurring, high-quality fat sources. As much as possible, eat grass-fed, organic, pasture-raised meat and poultry and wild-caught fish and seafood.
- Eat a wide variety of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Be sure to properly wash produce to get rid of bacteria, pesticides and wax.
- Make mealtime memorable by gathering around the table as a family. Keep conversation pleasant to avoid associating eating with stress. Discourage eating meals, fast foods and snacks in front of the TV or computer.
- Remember portion control. Eat protein, vegetables and healthy fats to satisfaction, rather than to the state of being “full” or “stuffed.”
- Leave unhealthy choices like chips, soda, prepackaged snacks, and artificially sweetened juice at the grocery store. Over-consumption of these foods has been linked to increased rates of obesity in children.
- Encourage your children to drink more water.
- Don’t use food as a reward or punishment. Withholding food as a punishment may lead children to worry that they will not get enough food. For example, sending children to bed without any dinner may cause them to worry that they will go hungry. As a result, children may try to eat whenever they get a chance. Similarly, when foods, such as sweets, are used as a reward, children may assume that these foods are better or more valuable than other foods. For example, telling children that they will get dessert if they eat all of their vegetables sends the wrong message about vegetables.
- Make sure your children’s meals outside the home are balanced. Find out more about their school lunch program, or pack their lunch to include a variety of foods. Also, select healthier items when dining at restaurants.