It’s easy to get caught up in simply getting a dinner on the table that everyone’s willing to eat – never mind all the worries about nutrition. Issues like: am I feeding them too much? Should I make them finish their meal? Will they be hungry at school? Are they getting enough calcium, iron, or that latest vital nutrient I just read about? Is this food nutritious? These questions are all too often relegated to the bottom of the priority list when you’ve got after-school sports and playdates to get to, and questions about homework to answer. But it pays to step back occasionally and look at the bigger picture. We all try to give our children healthy food so they grow up strong, fit and healthy. But as a partner of Together Counts™, I understand the greater aim of parenting is to prepare kids for the big wide world by teaching them how to make informed choices on their own. Instilling these balanced eating habits in your children will ensure they develop into healthy, active adults.
1. Be adventurous
One of the best gifts you can give your kids is a sense of (culinary) adventure. Train their taste buds to enjoy many different flavors. People who eat a wide variety of foods are more likely to get all the nutrients they need. Remember, a child may have to try a food up to 10 times before they enjoy it. So don’t give up on the first try.
A good tactic is to tell your kids that when they try new foods, it’s a sign that they’re growing up. Praise them when they try new things. Another great idea is to encourage them to try samples at the deli or supermarket – kids will try all sorts of foods, if they’re fun and exciting. Take them grocery shopping and let them choose a new food. Serve it with foods they already love and they may love the new food, too. Don’t shy away from giving them ‘exotic’ foods, either. Most kids don’t like ‘bland’ foods – they simply like what’s familiar.
2. Eat five or more colors a day
All the vibrant colors in fruit and vegetables come from natural plant chemicals that have positive effects on our bodies. Different colors have different effects, so it’s good to eat a variety of different colors each day.
Growing herbs and vegetables at home is fun and teaches children where food comes from. If you have fruit trees, a vegetable garden or even a few pots of herbs, involve your children in planting, watering, weeding and most importantly, eating. A child may leave behind peas and carrots on the plate, or tell you they hate tomatoes, but chances are they will at least take a little bite if they have pulled the carrot from the ground, pried the peas from their pod or watched the tomato plant grow tall and produce fruit. It’s amazing how much better they’ll think food tastes if they have just plucked it from the earth.
3. Stay Hydrated
Buy your children a “cool” travel bottle or two, and encourage them to take them wherever they go. Talk to them about how their body needs plenty of fluids to grow, play and learn. Demonstrate it to them by putting a sponge in some water and compare it to a dried-out sponge. When little bodies and brains are dehydrated, results like headaches, muscle cramps and feeling sluggish (and general crankiness) are common.
4. Eat breakfast
If the habit of eating a good breakfast in the morning isn’t firmly established at a young age, it can slide into non-existence as they become young adults and move out on their own. Even if it’s just a banana and a glass of milk, teach your children that some food in their stomach in the morning kick-starts the body, making it easier to be healthy, active and full of lasting energy throughout the day.
5. Listen to your tummy
Although children are born with the ability to stop eating when they are full, parents concerned about whether their kids have eaten the right foods – and enough of them – often override this natural regulating mechanism. However, letting them stop when they say they are full can mean whining requests for snacks an hour later, or a 5am wake-up call for breakfast. Teach children to listen to their tummies and ask themselves both quantity and quality questions: “Is my tummy full? Will I feel sick if I eat an extra snack?” The goal here is to make children aware of the many cues around them enticing them to eat, even if they are not hungry. Just because they are at the movies or passing the food hall at the shopping center, do they really need to eat? Are they really hungry? Give them the opportunity to keep and develop their ability to sense ‘fullness’ by letting them determine when to stop eating.
6. Eat slowly
Eating slowly is great for weight control, both now and in the future, and a fantastic way to show kids that it takes about 20 minutes for the message that they are full to get from their stomachs to their brains. As much as we would love our children to finish their meal in minutes rather than hours, it’s much more important that they learn to slow down and chew their food properly. Encourage them to savor their food – and make it a habit to sit with them while they eat dinner – preferably, eating dinner with them to catch up on the day’s events.
7. Enjoy cooking
Children are more likely to become discerning, adventurous eaters if they know how to cook. Give children their own aprons – and let them help you regularly on small tasks in the kitchen. Buy a kids’ cookbook for inspiration and, as they get older and become more confident, let them cook dinner once a week. If the thought of kids in the kitchen sounds like a recipe for disaster, enroll them in school or holiday cooking classes.
8. Sit at the table to eat
There’s a time to play, a time to work, a time to rest and a time to eat. All too often the ‘time to eat’ gets lost in the shuffle. Train your children to focus on food when it’s meal time. This means eating regular meals and sitting at the table – with no distractions. It not only reduces extra snacking, it also teaches social skills, such as table manners, how to use cutlery and how to wait your turn to talk.
9. Choose wholesome snacks
How many times have you seen a child stare into the fridge or pantry and tell you that there’s ‘nothing to eat’ – despite it being full of food? Stock your house with wholesome snacks like fruit, air-popped popcorn, unsalted nuts and yogurt – and don’t forget to show the kids what a portion should look like, so they know how much they should be eating.
10. Be active
Regular exercise, whether it’s organized sport or free play, is a vitally important habit to instill in your children. It keeps them fit, builds strong bones, tones muscles, burns energy and helps kids maintain a healthy weight. Television, computers, video games, hours of homework and busy roads all conspire to keep our kids sitting, instead of playing. Here are some ideas: go biking together, walk with them to school or the store whenever possible, limit TV and computer time or take them skating, swimming, running or just head over to your local park for a play.
This post originally appeared on the Nestlefamily.com. Nestle is a member of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, and is the world’s largest food company with a commitment to Nutrition, Health & Wellness. For product news and information, visit Nestleusa.com or Facebook.com/NestleUSA.
For more healthy tips check out these articles from Together Counts: