Developing Healthy Eating Habits in Children

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), type 2 diabetes among Americans under 20 could surge by nearly 700% by 2060. Findings on obesity are equally alarming, with one in five kids being reported as obese in the US. The risks of unhealthy food consumption patterns of youngsters are too real to ignore. And as a parent, take note of this today.

Teaching healthy eating habits should start at a young age. Here are five steps you could take today to help your children lead a healthier life.

1) Create Meal Plans

Whipping up a home-cooked meal after a busy day at work is undoubtedly a challenge for any working parent. This is why many have turned to takeouts, frozen dinners, and fast food today. But these types of food are neither healthy nor inexpensive. Restaurant-prepared food, for instance, is typically all about taste and flavor and rarely involves nutrients and health. Consuming takeouts and pre-cooked meals over a prolonged period could rob your kids of critical nutrition essential for healthy physical and cognitive development.

This is where a meal plan could help you. By planning your family’s meals each week, you could introduce predictability and curb unhealthy eating habits. Come dinnertime, and you will no longer need to worry about what dishes to prepare for your kids. You also get to plan weekly groceries to reduce wastage and include plenty of healthy foods. Overall, you gain better control over what your children eat and how it is prepared.

So, what is the best way to create a meal plan? Allocate some time each Sunday to plan the dishes. They should be low in fat, sugar, and carbs and packed with proteins, healthy fats, and nutrients. For example, fruits, vegetables, low-fat milk, lean meats, fish, eggs, beans, whole-grain food, and nuts are excellent options for your kids. Also, use healthier cooking methods. Air-frying, baking, and broiling should replace deep-frying.

Of course, “healthy” does not have to mean boring or tasteless. Ensure you introduce new and exciting dishes to make meals fun. Websites such as Food Network and Delish offer plenty of healthy and delicious recipes to try.

If you need some peer support, find and join a social media community for parents. It is a great place for parents to discuss challenges they often encounter when introducing kids to healthy food habits. And Leadar is a good option if you need help choosing a nutritionist near you.

2) Get Kids Involved

Getting kids involved in preparing healthy meals is the easiest way to stir their interest. Even young children can help with simple tasks — they can wash fruits, measure ingredients, or serve food. Ensure you appreciate their help and praise them at the dinner table. Positive encouragement can go a long way in instilling healthy habits.

And it doesn’t have to stop in the kitchen. For example, you can get kids involved in meal planning, too. Ask for their ideas and input. Let them know that their opinions are important and valued.

In addition, let your children help you shop for food and ingredients. It would be a wonderful opportunity for them to learn about food types, their nutrients, and dishes you can prepare with them. You can also teach kids to read and understand food labels. Show them the important nutrient facts food labels display and how they can select what is best for their health.

3) Plan Family Meals

A sit-down meal at the dinner table is a thing of the past in many households. But family meals are essential to help kids develop healthy eating habits. And planning at least a few each week can make a significant difference. After all, there is nothing better than a home-cooked dinner to ensure a clean, fresh, healthy, and balanced meal for your kids.

Eating together as a family has other benefits as well: for instance, you get to catch up with your children, share stories, and unwind. It might be the only time of the day when the entire family gets to spend time together. Leave devices aside and focus on conversations. But ensure they are positive and fun without arguments or lectures.

4) Set an Example

Many adults have unhealthy eating habits, from snacking at night to overindulging in fast food. But to guide children toward positive behavior, you need to walk the talk. For example, be mindful of what you consume. Avoid binging on candy, fatty food, and sugary drinks, like sodas, and snacking throughout the day. Instead, stock up on healthy snacks — yogurts, nuts, and fruits — and introduce discipline to your eating habits.

Undereating is just as bad as overeating. If you are obsessed with dieting, be mindful of the message you are sending your kids. Remember, they look up to you for guidance, so set the right tone and message for them to follow.

5) Create Positive Associations

Ultimately, developing healthy habits is all about positive associations and reinforcement. Changing behavior is challenging, even for adults. Imagine how tough it would be for youngsters.

This is why experts do not recommend exerting unnecessary pressure on kids to eat healthily. You should not use food as a reward or punishment, either. These practices will only serve to create negative associations. Banning a food your kids love, even if it is unhealthy, could also backfire. Instead, introduce it with healthier options and reduce it slowly over time.

Taking Matters Into Your Hands

From binging on fast food to continuous snacking, unhealthy consumption practices have become a severe threat to children’s health. It is time you take matters into your hands and help your kids develop healthy eating habits. Creating meal plans, planning family meals, and creating positive associations with food are all essential steps to achieve this. But remember, all good things take time. Getting rid of poor habits and replacing them with good ones may take longer than you think. So, be patient and consistent with your efforts.

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