It is always a struggle to help our kids eat healthy, especially when unhealthy things are (a) so accessible, (b) typically less expensive, and (c) taste so good. Often we, ourselves, struggle with healthy choices and so our kids struggle too. The example we set is probably the first thing that helps or hurts their eating habits, but our habits affect what we buy and, therefore, what we serve our children. Even if we attempt to serve them healthy things, if we are eating unhealthy foods they will see this, pick up on it, and eventually imitate it.
So how do we combat unhealthiness in our children? How do we help lower our children’s risk for diabetes and obesity -- problems that I believe if they are present in childhood, they are present throughout their lives. These are the times (when they are young and adventurous and not 50 pounds overweight) to help them realize how great “good” food can taste and how wonderful it feels to be healthy.
I want to make it very clear that it is extremely inappropriate to tell your child they need to lose weight -- to point out their unhealthy habits. When it comes to weight issues what you say and do now will stick with them -- for good or ill, so tread carefully.
Focus on setting a good example first and make it a collective family effort to be healthier. Use phrases like: “I want to be healthier and I want our family to be healthier so we are going to try an experiment” -- make it about the family and DO NOT make it about a specific child if you have one in particular that struggles. Even if you have thin children they can still be unhealthy -- and after all it isn’t about looks, it is about overall health and wellness.
If you must, SNEAK. Sneak healthier foods into their diet a little at a time and in fun ways and they may not notice or care. If the food tastes good and is fun to eat they will forgive you. And remember (don’t starve your kids by this advice): they will eat when they are hungry.
Some fun and/or simple ways to add healthy habits to yours and your children’s lives are:
- Buy whole wheat pasta and mix it with white pasta slowly changing the ratio until you are all whole-grain
- Slip fruit leather instead of fruit snacks into their lunches
- Add a cheese stick or fruit to their lunches instead of a candy
- Give your kids baked chips or even fruit/vegetable chips
- Package healthy foods in a fun way (I.e. cut sandwiches in shapes or wrap them up like a present)
- Give your kids fruit and fat free yogurt dip as a dessert
- Make walking to school a family affair when they are young enough to not be embarrassed
- Take an evening walk as a family playing ‘I Spy’ or other fun games
- Get outside and play games with them. Night games are always fun and a great way to be active
- Making an obstacle course in the backyard or at the park is another fun way to get active
- Give your kids choices: if they get to choose between different veggies, they will be more likely to eat them
- Have your children help you cook (See previous post on this). It makes them excited to eat what they helped prepare -- even if it is healthy!
- Plant a garden if you can and let your children help. They will be so excited to eat what they grew
- Make trying something new a fun experience. Make a game out of it or have a cooking contest with a new healthy ingredient
Most importantly remember that starting young is the best thing to help your kids be healthy, but it is never too late to make a change. The change begins with you -- you are the parent. You are the one who cooks and purchases food. You are in charge of what your family eats!
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