It’s our responsibility as parents to instill healthy habits into our kids’ lives, but it’s a delicate job. Here are 8 tips to help you be successful.
Avoid Being Sneaky
One of the worst mistakes I ever made with my own kids was following the advice of a cookbook, which suggested making purees of veggies and mixing it into their normal food.
It didn’t take long for my kids to figure it out, and when they did, they were furious. Not only were they furious, but the sneakiness reinforced in their impressionable minds that health food is something so negative that they have to be tricked into eating it. Honesty is always the best policy, especially when it comes to our children.
When I learn something new about food or nutrition, I like to share it with my kids. I try to make it fun, the same way I would make learning to read or multiplication fun. They may not be as fascinated as I am (“Did you guys know that broccoli can actually fight cancer?”) but you never know what may stick in their little brains.
I try to explain to them as much as they’ll listen why I choose the foods that I do, what things like trans fats are and why I avoid buying them. Or where the meat comes from at the supermarket and why that makes a difference, etc, and I try to make it a conversation so they’ll ask questions and remember.
If there is one thing I know, it’s that a sure-fire way to get a kid to do the opposite of what you want them to do is to nag them about it. Although I don’t always succeed at biting my tongue, I try to make conversations about food and health positive and encouraging rather than critical and negative.
Instead of “you shouldn’t be eating that” or “that’s so bad for you”, I aim for “wow, you really like that fruit and it will make you feel good!” or “I’m so proud of you for eating your veggies, they will make you strong!”
Find Healthy Replacements
Just like when you’re transitioning to new, healthy foods for yourself, it will be easier on your kids to find things they DO like, so they can replace the things that aren’t good for them. We slowly replaced any snack cakes, cookies, or other preservative and trans-fat laced foods with clean alternatives. My kids absolutely LOVE this cookie dough dip, or these watermelon lime popsicles.
Life is all about keeping a healthy balance, and food is no different. Teach your children that if they will eat healthy meals the majority of the time, then it’s OK to indulge on a little soda at the theater, or to partake in the class pizza party, or to grab fast food with the grandparents every so often.
As with ourselves, the goal is not perfection…the goal is to eat as healthy as we can when it makes sense and we are able to, and to “let go” when we can’t, or when it will make us more miserable than necessary not to. Emphasizing perfection will only create rebellion or even worse, an unhealthy relationship with food.
Set the Foundation
Showing and educating your children about a healthy lifestyle now will lay a foundation for their futures, so that once they are grown, they can make their own informed choices. Simply saying that “they’ll eat what I give them” might work when you’re standing over them, but the moment you aren’t looking they’re going to eat what they want.
The goal is to empower them to make healthy choices on their own. They may or may not choose to be healthy adults, but the information will always be there for them if they decide they need a change, and they will know what needs to be done.
Make It Fun
Kids and fun are practically synonymous. Show them how much fun exercise can be by playing outdoor games with them, going on family bike rides, or signing up for martial arts or team sports.
Make snacks that are healthy but fun to eat – cut them in fun shapes and get creative. Ants on a log are a great example (celery sticks stuffed with peanut butter with raisins on top, “ants”).
Get them involved by either asking their ideas for meals with a healthy criteria, or have them help you cook. They’ll take pride in their knowledge and hard work and will be more likely to try new things if they feel like they were involved.
Be a Role Model
The absolute best way to teach a child ANYTHING is to model it for them. You can talk until you’re blue in the face about the benefits of good nutrition and exercise, but seeing is believing.
My kids know that Mom has muscles because she works hard every day and eats her veggies. They buy me workout equipment and water bottles for my birthday and holidays.
They know I have enough energy to play soccer with them all day and if you ask them why I eat the way I do, they will tell you it’s because I want to live a long time and feel awesome. They watch me live the benefits of health every day and it impacts them in a big way.