Did you know that children develop their eating habits from a very early age. Studies show that children's eating habits are formed at birth to approximately six years of age. The eating habits that are formed during this time frame can last a lifetime. Our initial relationship with food and healthy choices are learned and formed at such a young age and are often a result of watching our parents and caregivers.
Here are some healthy ways to make healthy eating fun for children:
1. Offer a variety of choices. Offer a variety of choices for meals and snacks and always remember that you are in charge of the food supply kept stocked in the home. Offering choices in the fruits or vegetables served in a meal is a great way to have children included in the decision making process. Being involved empowers your child to make healthy food choices. Remind your child of why they are choosing these nutritious foods and keep the options colourful. Offer up some fun facts about the foods being served. Tell your child about the Vitamin K in carrots and how it helps with their bones, brains and eyes. Get creative and zest up their veggies with some creative dips, fun shapes and different textures.
2. Start a garden with your family. Children often learn from doing. Planting a garden is a great way to incorporate spending time with your family while growing your own nutritious foods. This is a wonderful way to educate and encourage children, demonstrating the importance of caring for the earth, where our food is sourced and also teaching them about responsibility. This is a great opportunity to teach your child about the importance of eating healthy, clean, local and unprocessed foods.
3. Have dessert with dinner. Having dessert with dinner is a great way to take the reward out of your children eating everything on their plates or having dessert used as a bargaining tool. The novelty of having a dessert or treat after dinner will wear off if you include the dessert as part of their healthy meal. Fresh fruits, yogurt, chia seed pudding and banana bread are delicious examples of what can be offered as a compliment to any meal.
4. Grocery Shopping. Let children pick out a couple of healthy options at the grocery store that they would like to sample or include in a meal. It can take approximately 10-15 tries before a child accepts a new food. Introducing a new food into a meal that they already love can make this easier. Adding spinach to a wrap or chopped broccoli into their favourite casserole is a wonderful way to introduce a new vegetable without overwhelming your child with a new food. Making children feel a part of the process is fun for them. Let them participate from the grocery store aisles to the kitchen.
5. Monkey see Monkey do. Children often role model what we do. Try to make healthy choices yourself, don't skip meals, drink plenty of water, eat at the table and take time to enjoy your meals. Our lives often revolve around busy schedules, eating on the run and social events. Try to be conscientious that food is not a reward. When food is introduced as a reward or sign of affection we may be teaching our child to cope with stress or other emotions with food. Try when possible to offer other means of rewards over food.
6. Lastly Remember Don't Stress. Remember that Rome wasn't built in a day and teaching our children about fueling their bodies with healthy choices can take time. Treats are okay in moderation. We all enjoy indulging in chocolate or cookies from time to time. Don't stress if your children aren't always reaching for the carrots or that apple. Often times coaxing, begging and bargaining can have the opposite affect of what we wanted to accomplish in the first place. We can win the healthy food fight by not stressing too much. If we act like healthy choices are the norm then often times they follow suit. Keeping your fridge and cupboards stocked with healthy food options is a great way to have your kids reaching for healthy choices on their own.