P: 281-298-6742 | F: 281-419-1373|info@TWIHW.com

10 Tips for Teaching Children Healthy Food Habits

healthy_childBy Nancy Mehlert, MS

As our children struggle with an increasingly large number of health issues such as skin rashes, poor concentration, inability to sleep, constipation, hyperactivity, tummy aches, and obesity, just to name a few, it is difficult to ignore the fact that most restaurant food, packaged food and fast food are filled with damaged oils and proteins, sugar, and harmful additives. We want to encourage families to get together at the dinner table to eat a simple, real food meal more often to ensure good nourishment and also because it creates security, stress reduction, relationship strength and emotional confidence for our children and families as a whole.

Tip ONE: Begin early and involve children in selection and preparation of vegetables, fruit, and meat. The ability to choose, smell, touch, and prepare foods will help to increase participation in trying new foods. As age allows, engage them in setting the table, washing, cutting, measuring quantities, and otherwise helping to prepare the meal and clean up afterward. Even “play” activities with food can help a child become familiar with a new food. An art activity like creating a face on an apple with kale for hair, grapes or blueberries for eyes, thinly sliced bell pepper or carrot to form a smile, can increase a child’s confidence with new foods. If your kids are older, sign up for a cooking class together.

Tip TWO: As soon as you begin reading to your child, include nutrition-oriented books. Include nutrition topics in DVD’s for older children such as Food Matters, or Food, Inc. Conduct experiments with food such as buying a Happy Meal and leaving it on the kitchen counter for observation to see what happens to it. Book suggestions for youngsters include Vegetables in Underwear by Jared Chapman, Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert, Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli by Barbara Jean Hicks, and Why Should I Eat Well by Claire Llewellyn.

Tip THREE: Try new foods together. Insist on tasting everything and you do the same. Teach tasting with an 8-10 chew rule – take a bite, chew 8 times, then the choice is theirs to spit it out or swallow it. Children need to touch, smell, and experience new foods often before eating it. It can take as many as 10-20 introductions of a new food to develop a taste for it. Be patient and persistent, continuing to put it on the plate. Try preparing it different ways. (Yes! Hide it if you can.) If you don’t have success after 20 introductions, don’t give up entirely. Take it out of the rotation for a couple months and reintroduce it again later. Remember, taste buds are growing and changing along with children’s brains and bodies.

Tip FOUR: Ignore protests or requests during mealtime for routine favorites or something different. We recommend that everyone in the family is served and expected to eat the same food. This prepares children for many aspects of life where we don’t always get our favorites or our way. If children can be taught to eat what is served they will try new foods and become less finicky. Don’t feel guilty about allowing a child to be a little hungry because they refused to eat what was served. Sometimes missing a favorite treat or being hungry at bedtime is a strong motivator for changed behavior at the dinner table. Snacks or after dinner treats, even healthy ones such as fruit, nuts or 60% dark chocolate chips should not be offered unless a child has eaten a reasonable amount of the dinner served.

Tip FIVE: Bring kids to the table hungry. Introducing new foods is best done when the child is hungry and the options are limited. Do this by preventing excessive snacking and permission-only access to food in the kitchen. Help your children identify the sensation of true hunger versus eating for other reasons. Encourage play and outdoor activity wherever possible. Hungry kids will come to the table ready to try new foods, eat what is served and eat good portions for growing minds and bodies.

Tip SIX: Limit beverages at mealtime. Keep children focused on food. Too much liquid of any kind can fill a child up and prevent them from eating much. Excessive fluid also dilutes stomach acid needed to aid in quality digestion. Use small 3-4 ounce glasses and don’t allow refills. If children are hungry between meals, suggest water, since hunger is often a sign of thirst.

Tip SEVEN: Make dinner a technology-free and toy-free zone for everyone. No television, cell phones, toys or other activities. This increases a focus on eating, chewing well and healthy conversation. If phones ring or ping, do not leave the table to answer them. This shows your children that eating together as a family is a high priority where nothing else is more important. Check out www.dinnertimeapp.com for a way to get kids to shut down technology at the appropriate times.

Tip EIGHT: It may not be realistic to eat at home every night but try to establish one or two nights that are “sacred” where everyone agrees that dinner will be at home together and no activities will take precedence. Engage teens in dinner preparation responsibility one day a week. Boys and girls need to know how to plan and cook a meal for successful adult lives.

Tip NINE: Create fun, healthy discussion for mealtime. Pose a question everyone can answer. For example, “What was the best part of your day and why?” or “What are you thankful for today and why? “ Need more ideas? Check out http://childhood101.com/2012/03/family-time-meal-time-conversation-starters/ .

Tip TEN: Teach your children to understand that sugar, specifically sweets such as candy, cakes, ice cream, cookies, cokes, fruit juices, power drinks, donuts and other similar foods are highly destructive to the optimal functioning of the human body and highly correlated with most disease and illness. . The more you can limit or eliminate them, the better for everyone. Instead, offer a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods for snacks and meals. Avoid using sweets or any food as a reward or soother. This teaches your children to become adults who reward or sooth themselves with food. Be very aware that, while socially acceptable and legal, sugar is at least as, if not more addictive than, cocaine, alcohol and tobacco. Fresh fruit, nuts and seeds are ideal replacements for sweets.

For more ideas, help with the substitutions and sugar-busting methods, contact me today at 281-298-6742 for a nutrition consultation.

By |2015-06-22T15:28:44-06:00June 22nd, 2015|Articles, General, NANCY’S NUTRITIONAL NUGGET|