Inside: 12 Tips to teach healthy eating habits for kids, from a young age. These tips are actionable, problem-solving and are sure to work for your family!
You know the reasons why you should help your kids eat healthily, but some actionable tips are always helpful whether it comes to starting a new healthy eating journey, OR as a friendly reminder.
12 Tips to Help Kids Eat Healthy Foods from the Get-Go.
1. Eat Together as a Family
I know this sounds obvious and repetitive, BUT it is the BIGGEST tip out there when it comes to developing healthy eating habits for kids.
Our modern lifestyle of different work schedules doesn’t often make it possible for us to eat together as a family. Plus, we want kids to go to bed by a certain time, so having dinner with them, makes a “too soon” dinner time for adults. However, neither of these excuses, overcome the power of eating together as a family, on the same table.
Reason – You see when our kids see us eating with them, they get relaxed and their minds allow them to try new foods, that they won’t eat on their own.
Proof #1 – My 4 yr old has been recently telling me – “Mom, I eat like you and daddy eat!”
2. A monkey repeats what it Sees
In other words, if we eat healthy kids will eat healthily too. We can’t get french fries as sides for us and expect kids to take apples as sides.
Proof #2 – I’m being recently told, “Mom, I think I would like beer when I grow older!”..as hilarious as it sounds, he sees me enjoy mine, and believes he’ll like it too…(eye roll from me)
3. Don’t get in the house what you don’t want them to eat often.
We can’t stack the panty with cookies and crackers and expect kids to snack on fruits. In my house, we have almost zero cookies or crackers in the house. Sure, it was difficult in the beginning, but it was good for everyone since I had a “biscuit with tea” addiction.
I think this is by far the most common advice I give to parents when they ask me how to get their kids to eat healthier.
The reason this works: Your kids will get hungry and will choose healthy snacks. It’s difficult but going cold turkey works!
4. Give healthy options only as choices
What you need to do is – give them healthy options only and let them choose; so even if they chose the worst option it’s considerably healthy food. This is usually only possible when you follow #3 because we moms are always pressed on time and patience; so only when we won’t have a likeable option on hand, will we not pass healthy options only.
Don’t give them options between crackers and cucumber, choices should be peanuts or cucumber; or tomatoes and cucumber.
This is also a great tip to start early when they are toddlers. So as a toddler, my kids got 5-6 small portions of healthy options to try; even if that meant giving them food off the family menu. If you didn’t do this when they were babies, this can be done at any age, not just toddler age.
So any time your child does not want to eat what you made, their choice shall only be something else that is healthy, and not whatever they want.
5. Involve them in cooking meals
This tip has helped me more times than I remember. Every time either of my kids went through a picky eating phase, whether because of teething or because of #kidsmood, I asked them to be involved in meal prep. So things like chopping sides, or chopping tomatoes, or mixing batter, or washing food to cook.
And this tip invariably changed their attitude towards the food we were cooking EVERYTIME!
There are innumerable opportunities to involve kids while making food, and every time they get involved in making food they are happier to eat it.
6. Give them more water than you do
Drink water as many times as possible instead of a drink!
I can’t tell you how much my husband (who’s a physician) is frustrated by the drink choices his patients make, they are adults and drank soda and juice as kids. People drink less than 2 glasses of water a day. And most often we all consider – “I don’t eat anything to spike my blood sugars”, and we totally forget the sugars in our drinks (even sugarfree drinks don’t get us out of sugar rut.)
Developing a healthy habit to drink more water begins at a young age when drinking water should become obvious.
7. Reconsider Their Juice choices
Apple and Orange Juices, are way too common amongst kids, as “healthy drinks”, while in reality, they’re just sugars, and all the processing rips those fruits from their vitamins too.
Reconsider your juice choices, there are a lot of juices out there with are “superfoods” juices, like Pomegranate juice, beet juice, carrot juice, acai berry juice. These juices are high in antioxidants; good for healthy brain development.
These juices are not very tasty, but if these are the only juice choices your kid gets, they’ll start taking them, and they’ll also reduce their juice choices and prefer water.
8. Drop the TV during mealtimes
I know most paediatricians say it’s okay for toddlers to watch tv as long as they’re not overfeeding themselves. BUT let’s be honest it’s not okay.
TV or video distractions are so strong for their tiny brains, that their brain can make a connection to only one thing, either food or TV and while watching TV it’s going to be only one thing TV.
Making a healthy connection to food while watching TV is impossible.
As an example, all are getting into the habit of not being able to connect to the food we’re eating because we must have a phone on hand while we eat. This will only lead to unhealthy eating habits into the teen and adult age, without a doubt.
9. Don’t stop them if they have already seen it, or want it when someone else is eating it.
When we stop kids from eating what another child is eating, and it is what they like to eat, we make them develop strong feelings for that food. And a strong feeling leads to desire which takes zero time to become an extreme liking. Remember: Forbidden fruit is the sweetest.
So, if they are already exposed to it, then let them have it. And if you have them eat fairly healthy most times, by not getting sugary, starchy or fried foods in the house, the chances of them getting these foods is quite limited. If you let them have it most of the times they see it and ask for it, they ask for it less often too, or will listen to you easily when you say no to it.
10. Skip the Drive-Thru
This just happened to me the other day, I was at a state of mind where “I just had to leave the house right away”. So I decided I’ll just grab lunch before heading to the children’s museum because fixing a lunch box will take at least 20 mins for me. Well, I came down my kids had a ziplock bag in their hand and were “packing lunch”; which included 3 bananas, 4 oranges, 2 granola bars. I was like huh… I don’t have to spend 20 mins making a lunch box every time, I CAN just have snacks for lunch. I threw in half a bag of bread I had, some hummus from the fridge, we made a simple hummus sandwich with fruits, and had that for lunch. It doesn’t have to be fancy, skipping the drive-thru is cheaper, healthier and quicker, than you think it is.
11. Save the junk for outings.
Save the nuggets and fries for the times you eat out, provided you eat out or take out food 2-3 times a week, and don’t pick nuggets and fries every time, you eat out.
Simply means, eat healthier food at home, and save the fried and heavier food for once in a while, and let your kids enjoy their meals once in a while.
12. Rethink their snacks
Kids love snacks, and that is the one category where they get most of their sugar from in the form of sugar or refined flour. And let’s be honest there are so many times when kids end up eating a collection of snacks for lunch.
Making snacks healthier will probably provide you with the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to trying to incorporate healthy eating habits for kids.
I hope these tips help you induce, healthy eating habits for kids. Eating healthy if becomes normal as kids, their struggle in adulthood is taken care of, probably the best gift you’ll give your child!