Our quality of life is directly related to our health. This is the reason why it’s difficult to understand why, nowadays; new generations don’t learn about nutrition and diet from a young age.
Teaching healthy eating for kids and young adults is what would give us hope to create a healthier society tomorrow.
A big part of achieving this is for parents to take responsibility to model good eating behaviors, as well as, using playful ways to encourage learning and developing the skills of making good choices.
Healthy eating for kids
If your children are already eating every type of food, healthy eating for kids looks pretty much like healthy eating for adults.
Now, let’s see some simple guidelines that could make the task of teaching healthy eating easier:
Make it a habit, not a rule: Healthy eating should be the norm, more like a lifestyle, and it shouldn’t feel like something that is imposed.
Focus on overall diet rather than specific ingredients: If your child doesn’t like certain food, don’t push him too hard to eat it. The main focus is that he eats whole natural foods most of the time.
Make it easy to reach for healthy snacks: Keep their favorite fruits and vegetables ready to be eaten, prepare indulgent – but healthy – homemade snacks, like Oatmeal Cookies or Baked Donuts Filled With Healthy Nutella.
Don’t keep unhealthy snacks in their reach: You should avoid buying unhealthy foods and snacks altogether. If they see them, they want them.
Be a role model: Children will mimic what their parents do, so if the parents are eating junk food, children will ask for junk food. Show them that you are eating natural food and ask them to do the same.
Disguise the taste of undesired foods: If your child dislikes a specific type of green leaf, cut it into small parts and add it to a main dish. You can also add undesired veggies to a stew or a mash.
Ask their opinions: You can take the chance to ask them what they would prefer for dinner or, even easier, you can give them 2 or 3 options from which they can choose from.
Don’t use food as a currency: Never use food as a reward, or bribe, because they will do the same when adults.
Be patient with picky eaters: Don’t give up on trying to get them to eat new foods. It takes 8-10 presentations of a new food before they will accept it as normal.
Make nutritious choices appealing: Play with the presentation of food and let them play with their food. Invite them to make art with it and cut it the way they wish.
Teaching nutrition to kids
Who should teach kids about healthy eating? Is it a responsibility for the school system or only for parents?
If you are a parent and your children are not taught nutrition at school, here are a few suggestions to teach them about healthy eating.
Teach your children that they are what they eat:What they put inside their bodies, builds their bodies. Explain to them that healthy food is their fuel and that there is, in fact, a major construction project going on inside of their bodies.
Cook more meals at home: Talk to them about the ingredients they find in their homemade foods and why they are good for them.
Teach them to make healthy choices when eating out: Eating at a restaurant doesn’t mean that everything is allowed. From the menu, choose a balanced meal together. If there are no healthy choices for children, then share your balanced dishes with them.
Explain why it’s better to have whole natural food: They might see other children eating junk food, but they need to understand that the whole food they eat is better for them because they will grow stronger and bigger; they’ll learn faster and they’ll have more energy to play.
Teach them how to read labels: At the grocery store, have them read labels for you and ask them if they think that would be a healthy choice.
Teach them what a balanced meal looks like: Explain that half of the plate should have veggies in it, one quarter should be protein, a little less than a quarter should be whole grains and there must also be some good fat. Grocery shopping shows them different examples of food groups.
Use the internet to find nutritional facts: If your children are not convinced about eating certain fruits or veggies, have a look online and tell them what minerals and vitamins are contained in that food and tell them what these are good for.
Make eating time a moment just for that: Watching TV or using a smartphone at the table is a distraction from the eating activity. It makes us disconnect from our body and it’ll probably make us overeat, because we don’t realize when we have had enough.
Activities to promote healthy eating
In a study published in May 2019, it has been shown that “affirming statements like ‘eat your lentils if you want to grow bigger and run faster’ are more effective at getting kids to make healthy food choices than presenting the food repeatedly without conversation.”
These affirmations can be used every time your child is being fussy about certain foods, or they can be taught in other activities that promote healthy eating habits, like these coloring recipes.
This tool targets both parents and children at the same time and wants to make it easier for parents to prepare easy and healthy food while they bring their children into the kitchen with them.
It’s a pdf with two pages; one contains a healthy recipe and one is a coloring page for the children.
In the coloring page, the child can color the recipe that the parent is going to make, but also, the main ingredients that have their name written in the child’s language, and a new language that the parent would like their child to learn.
More activities to promote healthy eating habits are:
Eating dinner as a family
This might encourage them to eat what you eat.
Planting herbs and vegetables at home
You’ll have fresh herbs for your cooking. You can teach them how to cut the herbs, and whenever you need some, you can ask your child to get it for you.
Helping you in the kitchen
Ask them to bring you the ingredients for the recipe that you are going to make. Older children can also help by cutting ingredients.
Getting their own kitchen props
Buy them their own apron, and maybe a chef’s hat that they can decorate as they wish.
Being involved in the shopping process
Ask them to prepare the shopping list with you and, once at the grocery store, ask them to pick up the ingredients you need and put them into the cart. Tell them what veggies you need and invite them to pick up a fruit, or a veggie, of their choice.
Younger children can pick out fresh fruits and veggies. Older children can take on larger roles, like choosing recipes and making a shopping list.
Visiting a farm
Show them how the food is grown and where it comes from.
How to introduce new foods to children
- Offer new foods only one at a time.
- Cut it in funny or unusual shapes.
- Present the new food when they are hungry.
- Don’t serve new foods together with their favorite foods; they would hate it because it’s ruining their favorite food.
- Have your child get used to the new food first by asking him/her to pick it up at the grocery store and then by letting him cut it.
- Let your child help you prepare that food; they might be more willing to eat what they have prepared.
- Make sure snacks are not too filling, so that they will arrive at dinnertime with more appetite.
How have you been teaching nutrition to your kids?
Have you implemented any activity?
As always, I appreciate you stopping by my blog, and if you think this post might help someone you know to make even a small step to a healthier lifestyle, please don’t hesitate and share it away!
Happy Healthy Living!
A big hug,
Claudia Canu is a former junk and sugar addict transformed into a Health Motivator with a master’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. She has created this website not only to share her “Journey to her Healthy Forties” but also to help other busy women with basic knowledge about nutrition and who don’t love cooking, to live a healthier life and achieve big goals.