It’s never too early, as a parent, to influence how your child interacts with food. Encouraging better food habits needs to start in childhood. Dr Bernadette Rock shares the 4 best things to encourage healthy eating habits in kids.
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As parents, we often fret about whether our children are “getting enough” or getting the right types of food. We worry about their consumption of junk food and also fret about how to pave the way for a healthy body image. It can all be a minefield!
Creating healthy eating habits for the whole family can make a world of difference.
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Encourage Healthy Eating Habits in Kids
#1. Tell them the truth about food
Even small children can be influenced by the power of advertising. We’re all familiar with our kids’ demands for yoghurts or cereals with cartoon characters on them and other food items on the aisles of a supermarket.
Your child is never too young to understand the word ‘No’. Cushion this by telling them that there are certain foods that we need to limit in order to be healthy and strong.
Give them information such as “There are 5 teaspoons of sugar in that yoghurt”. Giving them information like this will actually enable them to make their own decisions as they grow.
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#2. End the Conflict!
The Dinner Table can quickly become a place of conflict. Children pick up on this and it can translate to negative food connotations and eating patterns in later life.
If your child refuses to eat a certain food, such as broccoli, ‘forcing’ them to do so at dinner time is only going to reinforce the negative perception they already believe. I know of adults who still refuse to eat carrots.
Instead invite your child to help you to prepare dinner. By actively engaging them in the process – helping to prepare or chop vegetables, you can encourage them to ‘taste’ as they go. Quite often, they see this as a ‘fun’ activity – one in which they can be ‘in charge’ for themselves.
If all else fails, blitz the vegetables in a processor and ‘hide’ them in their favourite dish. But do not allow your dinner table to become a war-zone!
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#3. Don’t force them to eat
At some point every parent is used to hearing at the dinner table “I’m not hungry”. It is quite possible that your child is not hungry and they could have been consuming ‘invisible fillers’ all day – drinks! The biggest offender in this instance is juice.
If your child does not want to eat at mealtimes and claims that they are not hungry, do not force them to eat. However, do not offer a ‘substitute’ after dinner. A child who is not hungry at dinner time should never be ‘rewarded’ with an after dinner treat.
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#4. Switch off the TV
Although this sounds obvious, many children eat their snacks and meals in front of the TV. This habit leads to a lot of mindless and extra eating. Mindless eating is one of the most commonly cited food issues that I deal with in adults, with many people eating an entire packet of biscuits or crackers whilst they watch their favourite TV shows.
Not allowing the habit to develop in the first place is going to be of tremendous advantage to your child. So switch off, or at least pause, the TV while your child eats a snack or dinner. Try not to pair eating with watching TV. Allow them to consciously enjoy their food. Otherwise, you are encouraging an unconscious eating pattern.
None of us is a perfect parent – the perfect parent does not exist. However, it is possible for you to take these 4 small steps to raise a healthy child who understands the benefits of choosing the right foods at the right times.
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