Healthy eating is on everyone’s mind, and it’s not just an adult thing either. Children are suffering more every day from unhealthy eating habits and fast food trends.
A recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that childhood obesity and the habits that lead to it can start as soon as play school. If your child maintains unhealthy eating habits even as young as four or five, it can prove extremely difficult to shake them.
Start your child off right with a healthy diet and balanced nutrition, and teach them good eating habits right from the start. Not sure how? We spoke to registered dietician nutritionist Caroline Kaufman, who gave us a few easy steps you can take to ensure that your child will grow up happy, healthy and strong.
Stick to a schedule
Snacking is a habit we all have, but also one that should be avoided, especially in childhood. One way to keep your child from overeating unhealthy snacks is to make sure that you provide full, healthy meals at scheduled times every day.
Caroline advises us, “Keep serving healthy, nutritious foods at regular intervals during the day instead of letting them graze and fill up on less healthy snacks and beverages. Kids will be more likely to eat what you’re serving if they’re hungry, don’t feel pressured, and know that there will be another opportunity to eat at the next meal or snack.”
Don’t just schedule times for large meals, but also time for a healthy, prepared snack, instead of whatever your child can pull out of the cupboards. We're talking about granola bars, raisins and fruit - not sweets!
Not sure what healthy snacks your child will eat? Try a little bit of everything!
Caroline says, to help kids get in the habit of eating right, “Make fruits and vegetables fun and appealing. Try different ones and let your kids pick out something new at the market or farmers market. Prepare them a few different ways and see what they like best—a raw carrot, boiled carrot, and roasted carrot all taste different. Offer vegetables with dips like hummus, mashed avocado, salsa, and low-fat dressing to reduce the bitter flavours many kids are sensitive to. Serve them at every meal and snack – whether it’s dried, canned, fresh or frozen!”
It is important to teach your child early that healthy foods can be prepared in a variety of appealing ways, not in just as a bitter, dry salad or snack. Encourage your child to help with the grocery shopping and food prep. Show your child all the options that are out there, and you will find that healthy food that they actually adore.
It is also important to make sure that your child is eating a variety of different foods so that they get the necessary vitamins and nutrients they need.
“Children and teens need to eat a variety of food like whole-grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, and lean meat,” Caroline says. “Instead of focusing on specific nutrients, pick from food groups.”
Avoid sugary drinks
Another important step to improve your child’s health? Avoiding all those sugary drinks.
“Be aware of sugary beverages, which can add unneeded calories to your child’s diet and crowd out healthy, nourishing foods and drinks,” Caroline advises. “Offer your child water, low or fat-free milk, or 100% fruit juice instead of soda, fruit drinks, or other sugar sweetened beverages.”
Make it family time
Talking about healthy eating and weight with your child can be difficult, and sometimes, it has a negative effect.
To set eating habits early and not make your child feel alienated for their weight or eating, Caroline advises us to take on healthy habits as a family.
“Instead of talking about weight with your child, start making lifestyle changes as a family,” she says. “Some of the best healthy habits include eating family meals, reducing screen time, and serving regular meals and snacks that provide a variety of healthy food.”
Model a lifestyle that you want your child to have. For example, as Caroline says, “Variety and balance are important—kids take their cues from you, so if you obviously don’t like broccoli, they won’t want to eat it.”
Getting your own eating in order can actually help boost your child’s health. Your child will pick up on your nutritious eating habits, and you will gain all the benefits of a healthy lifestyle too!
Get active, together
Exercise is very important when it comes to weight and physical health, especially for growing children. If you don’t have the most active child, turn exercise into a game! The more fun they have, the more likely being physically active will become a lifelong habit.
“Encourage them to get outside and play, join a local sports team, learn martial arts or take swimming lessons," Caroline says. “You can exercise as a family too – hiking, biking, and taking long dog walks together are great for family bonding and feel like play.”
Don’t give up!
Caroline says that the key is to not give up! “Keep presenting healthy options—it may take kids 11 or 12 times before they try a new food,” she says.
Keep introducing healthy habits and providing healthy options, and your child will take notice. If weight and health are still an issue for you and your child, Caroline says not to be afraid to approach someone about it.
“Talk to an RDN and your health-care provider privately to discuss your concerns and decide how the family can make lifestyle changes that will help your child find their healthy weight,” she says.
It is important, however, not to put pressure on your child to lose weight.
Instead, take on healthy eating as a family and try to make lifestyle changes, instead of trying out temporary dieting solutions. As a family, you can tackle any problem, and your child will respond to your positive outlook on food and health!
Do you have any other tips for teaching your child healthy eating habits? Tweet us @sofeminineUK