Every parent wants their children to make healthy food choices. We all know on some level that our health is directly linked to the foods we put in our bodies (or don’t, in some cases).
But sometimes this isn’t so easy with kids. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a parent say that their kids just won’t eat healthy foods. But I’ve also noticed (and had this personal experience) that families that are eating whole food diets don’t have these problems – or at least fewer of them.
So how do you get your kids to make healthy food choices? There are a number of things that contribute to this. Below I’ll discuss 10 things you can do that will help foster healthy eating habits.
1. Lead by Example
First we have to realize that just like all other areas of parenting, we need to lead by example. You can’t go through the drive-thru every day and wonder why your kids like chicken nuggets. Monkey see, monkey do, right? My example may have been a little extreme but children learn by watching their parents. Make sure you are showing them how to eat by preparing and eating whole foods as the majority of your diet.
2. Start Young
I can’t stress enough how important it is to start good eating habits at an early age with kids. If we look at the supermarket shelves, we are bombarded with processed food choices for first foods: baby cereals, baby puffs, canned meat products (gag)! Breast milk is of course the best food for babies, but when you are ready to introduce other foods to your little ones, stick with whole foods. Young kids only know the foods they are exposed to and will expect to eat what they are used to. So fill your kitchen with whole foods and you will be amazed at what those little ones will actually eat! If you are needing some ideas for whole food recipes that are kid-friendly, check out Modern Alternative Mama’s book, Breast to Bib.
3. Get Them Involved
Have you ever sat a plate of food down in front of your adoring children only to have them turn up their nose? Yep, me too. But you can greatly decrease the chances of this occurring if you get them involved. You may have noticed that kids, especially young ones, love to help. My littles love to help juice and blend things. I even let them use a knife with my help. Older kids can slice veggies and do all kinds of prep work. When kids help prepare the food, they are a lot more likely to eat the food. This is an all-around win since they are learning healthy food choices and eating the healthy foods, and learning some valuable skills while they are at it!
This brings me to the older kids. They might not be as eager to be your sous chef but it’s really important to get them involved in the kitchen. This is a great opportunity to show your kids what is (and isn’t) in their food. It’s also your opportunity to give them the skills to prepare whole foods based meals when they are on their own. Again, they are much more likely to eat something they made than if it was just presented to them at meal times.
4. Give Them Options
Now, don’t revolt on me yet, as I am not suggesting you prepare multiple options for one meal. Ha! That will be that day. What you can do is let your family have a say in what they are eating. My kids get to provide breakfast suggestions daily. I also like to give them two options to choose from at lunch time (I only make one, but they get to pick). This lets them feel empowered and part of the food making process. For older children and teens a list of available options for breakfast or lunch is a great way to let them choose healthy options.
You can also get your whole family involved in the meal planning process. Put together a list of meals and let everyone in the family choose 1-2 options each week. If you have older children, set up one night a week where the kids cook (with adult supervision), and have them plan the meal, shop for the meal, and prepare the meal.
5. Eat Together as a Family
This relates back to number 1. Your littles are more likely to want to eat foods when they see you eating them. Sitting down as a family and having a conversation also takes the focus off of the food. So as hard as it is to get to the table together, make this a family time. You’ll hopefully develop happy family memories and the kids will associate them with healthy food!
6. Set Some Food Rules
This doesn’t mean the food police are coming but it will help you maintain your sanity. It’s always productive to have some boundaries because your kids will test them. At our house, we eat what is served or we don’t eat. There are always snacks for later but I’m not going to cook four different things for four different people. Your rules may be different. Some examples are trying a bite of everything on the plate, sitting at the table for X minutes, etc. Figure out what is right for your family, let your kids know and stick to your rules!
7. Discuss food choices
This is one of the most important to me since my kids are so young. I firmly believe that if you teach your kids why they should eat whole foods that they will generally make good choices. We discuss on a daily basis how foods make us feel and why we do or don’t eat certain things. I do this in passing when it comes up, I don’t focus on it. When your kids do choose to eat some junk food, discuss how they feel.
8. Let Them Eat Cake
… and brownies and cookies and doughnuts. On occasion, treats are good. God gave us food and made it taste good so we should enjoy it! The wonderful thing about this is it doesn’t have to be bad for them. Using sprouted or soaked flours, almond flour, or coconut flour as a base for treats and sweeten them with natural sweeteners. Your kids will appreciate how good real food treats are and won’t miss the dye and sugar filled fake foods.
9. Find a Reasonable Balance
Eating 100% whole foods would be our family’s ideal. Sometimes this just isn’t feasible. If you are planning to eat at a restaurant, go to a party or travel you will need to compromise on your standards (or pack a lot of food). Allowing your kids to eat some junk will not kill them, but it’s important to keep the ratio in check. Some families like to practice the 80/20, 90/10, or 95/5 ratio when eating whole foods. To make sure you aren’t slipping into a larger ratio than you are comfortable with, make sure you meal plan with your weekly activities in mind.
10. Allow Your Kids to Make Food Choices When You Aren’t There
So what happens when you aren’t around? Kids are going to have to make their own food choices sooner or later. This is where discussing whole foods and the valuable experiences they’ve had at home comes in handy. Teach your kids how to spot whole foods choices in restaurants and that there are better (i.e. more delicious) alternatives at home for treats.
I use all of these tools in our home and I feel blessed that I have two kids that happily eat real foods. We have days where their eating habits aren’t so great, but they make up for it on other days. One of the most important things is to not make food a fight. Remember that there needs to be a balance in life and your food should come second to your family!
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