I am constantly amazed by the healthy eating habits my two granddaughters have developed. The credit goes to my daughter and son-in-law, who introduced healthy food with the first bites of solids. Those early days of mashed avocado and brown rice cereal have resulted in girls who enjoy cuisines from around the world, but have never stepped inside a fast-food restaurant. In seven years, I have not witnessed any power struggles over food and very few instances of nose wrinkling. The younger one had her “picky eater” phase but has now outgrown it.
Given the challenges today’s parents face in feeding their children, it isn’t easy to make your kids eat healthy. Tanya Wenman Steel, author of Real Food for Healthy Kids, offers parents some tips for developing healthy eating habits.
6 Tips for Encouraging Healthy Eating Habits
- Introduce a wide range of healthy foods when children are young and can feed themselves. Studies show that kids need to try foods over a dozen times to get used to the flavor, taste and smell.
- Institute “no, thank you bites.” Tell children they just have to taste one tiny bite, that’s the rule. Steel believes that parents have the authority when it comes to food and there’s no negotiating. Parents should not be short-order cooks and make special meals for picky eaters.
- Engage children in the kitchen as young as possible so they’ll associate the kitchen with fun. A two-year old can sit on the floor and wash lettuce or sugar snap peas.
- Let children help you at the grocery store. Ask them to pick out the most colorful fruits and vegetables. Involve them in planning and preparing meals.
- Watch portion sizes. Children’s portions are half of what parents think they should be, Steel says.
- Be sure you eat the same food you serve your children. “You have to be the ultimate PR person for spinach or seven-grain bread. And that means not just talking the talk, but walking the walk and eating that way every day in front of them,” says Steel.
And speaking of “walking the walk…” I had to do that the other day when I fixed my 3-year old granddaughter’s steel cut oatmeal. I placed a bowl of the plain hot cereal in front of her and she devoured it within minutes. I debated whether to sneak into the pantry and hide a spoonful of brown sugar in the bottom of my bowl under the oatmeal. But I decided to follow my granddaughter’s lead and “go natural.” I sprinkled on some golden raisins and pecans, which provided the sweetness I craved. I actually enjoyed the taste of the oatmeal and realized it’s never too late to change your eating habits!