One of the greatest challenges of parenthood is getting your children to regularly consume and enjoy healthy foods. Indeed, children these days are literally bombarded with endless advertisements for cookies, candy, and other unhealthy foods that are strongly linked to childhood obesity; children are also subject to enormous amounts of peer pressure to indulge in snacks and treats from brands such as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Pepsi, and the like.
There are, however, techniques, strategies, and good old dirty tricks that can be used to get your child to enjoy wholesome foods and to develop healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.
1. Take the time to make homemade meals
In the modern day and age, we are all extremely busy- many of us to the point that we just don’t have the time or energy to prepare a homemade meal at the end of the day.
However, such behavior makes an incredibly strong mark on children, who form most of their dietary habits before the age of 12; there is overwhelming scientific evidence showing that if parents have a bad diet and are overweight, their child’s chances of following suite rise dramatically.
In order to counter this trend it is important to take the time to make wholesome homemade meals, even if you only have the time to do so a couple days a week. The meals could be as simple as grilled chicken with vegetables or as complex as spinach stuffed ravioli, but either will do- remember, your cooking habits make a much larger impression on your child than you might think.
2. Get your child involved in cooking
A sure fire way to get your child to eat healthy food is to find out what they like and how they like it prepared. Involve them in the entire process of cooking, from making the shopping list, selecting ingredients, and, of course, the preparation of the dish itself. While little ones will be more comfortable with simple dishes such as pasta with vegetable sauce or fruit salad, try to encourage older children to experiment with their favorite ingredients and styles of food.
3. Fruit is nature’s candy
Most children love to nosh on pieces of apple, handfuls of grapes, and the like- use this to your advantage.
Instead of packing chips, crackers, or soda into your child’s lunch bag, give them packets of precut apples, oranges, sliced bananas, and the like; if they need extra incentive, pack a small container of caramel or melted chocolate to dip the fruit in. Also keep precut fruits and vegetables ready to go in the fridge for snack time- again, if your child needs extra incentive (such as caramel or ranch style dressing for dipping), provide it in small amounts rather than letting them choose how much is appropriate for the size of the snack they are having.
4. Don’t let treats become main dishes
It is reasonable to allow your child to get a treat after a week of healthy eating, but make sure they get something small and don’t consider it a meal. One chocolate bar or small bag of candy is fine, but don’t let them choose something large enough to last them all week. Make sure that they fully understand that a treat is something to be enjoyed only occasionally, and should not be consumed on a daily basis.
5. Use a points system
Children love earning prizes, so what better way is there to promote healthy eating than to use a point award system?
Give healthy meals the highest point value, healthy snacks a mid-range value, and unhealthy foods and snacks negative point values. For example, eating a healthy dinner could earn a child ten points, a healthy snack five points, an unhealthy snack negative five points, and an unhealthy meal negative ten points.
Also assign point values to privileges or treats so that your child can “cash in” their healthy eating at the end of the week. For example, a medium sized bag of candy could be worth 150 points, a small bag worth 100 points, a sleepover party worth 75 points, and extra TV time worth 50 points.
Although it may take some time for your children to adjust to these ideas and a healthier diet in general, there is no doubt that these tips will help your child to develop healthy eating habits that will last them a life time.