As if moms do not have enough to worry about, trying to instill healthy eating habits in your kids can seem more challenging than a Tough Mudder race. For starters, it is hard to compete with all the eye-catching commercials featuring the latest sugar-coated cereal, chocolate covered cookie or cream filled cupcake. Then there is the processed foods disguised as a “healthy” meal or snack that kids (and moms) often fall for at the supermarket. Even the beverages kids drink are nothing more than colored, sugar water. Aside from being bombarded with these ads, kids are also exposed to class parties, school-bought lunches, sports banquets and special occasions that commonly serve foods that are nowhere to be found on the food pyramid. What is a mom to do?
Teaching kids how to eat healthy does not have to be the daunting task that it is. It can be quite easy as long as you make it fun for them and explain to them why certain foods should be eaten and why others should be reserved for special occasions. Here are some simple tips that can help ease the burden a bit:
1. Lead by example. If you are not eating healthy, you cannot (and should not) expect your kids to eat healthy. Why should they change their eating habits if you are not changing yours? Kids learn from their parents so the healthier you eat, the better the chance they will follow your lead.
3. Snack time is not dessert time. This is probably my biggest pet peeve as my daughter tells me about all the kids who bring in nacho chips, marshmallows and gummy bears as their mid-morning snack at school. All of those foods, in my opinion, are desserts. Explain to your kids (as I did mine) that snacks are meant to be healthy. Fruit, vegetables, whole grain crackers, cheese and yogurt, for example, are great snacks and why they are great snacks—because these foods will provide them with the energy they need for schoolwork, sports and extracurricular activities. The other stuff will make them feel tired and have no energy to do anything—like play.
4. One food per meal should be healthy. Rome was not built in a day, so you cannot expect your kids to make immediate changes in their eating habits. For breakfast, let them pick one piece of fruit of their choosing to put on their cereal or pancakes. Or make them scrambled eggs, but tell them they have to include one vegetable in it for an omelet (or if they want to eat it on the side). For lunch, pack them something healthy (in addition to the snack) and limit the dessert if you give them one. Two cookies are more than enough—they do not need to eat an entire roll of them. As for dinner, ask them what they want and see if you can come up with healthier versions of it like pizzas made from whole wheat pita bread or using cauliflower for mashed “potatoes”. Let them help you so they can take pride in cooking it and eating it.
5. Family food shopping. Sure, it might be tedious to have your kids with you when you food shop, but it also might help because you can let them pick out what healthy foods they want to eat and/or try. This is also a good time to show them healthier swaps for the foods they usually eat. You will have a better chance of them enjoying healthier options if they are part of the process in selecting them.
6. Go rogue with the junk food. Some moms who are fed up with all the junk food their kids eat, have been known to get one big garbage bag and throw it all out so the only options the kids have are the healthy ones. This can certainly work if you are willing to try, but sometimes not letting kids have a little enjoyment can backfire. It may be better to slowly integrate healthier alternatives like kale chips for potato chips or all-natural, organic fruit roll ups made from real fruit instead of those gummy imposters disguised as healthy snacks.
Ultimately, you are the one doing the food shopping and preparing the meals so you have all the control. If it is not in the house or prepared for them, they cannot eat it. But explaining to your kids why eating healthy foods is better for them will eventually sink in. My daughter noticed one day after eating a lunch of tilapia, green beans and a sweet potato that she had more energy and did not feel as tired as she usually does. That was music to my ears! Of course, starting these healthy habits at a young age will make it much easier, but if you are late to the party (like many of us), there is still plenty of time to teach your kids how to eat healthy. And if you make it a family affair, it will be all the better—and easier.