As a Health Coach, and a Mom raising a blended (step) family, I hear from lots of parents telling me they know how important it is to feed their kids healthy foods, but they’re just not sure how to do it. Despite my own background in health and wellness, I have had to go through some trial and error with my own kids – especially because we are a blended family, sharing joint custody, and the nutrition outlook (importance of) varies between the kids homes.
I think as parents we all have good intentions of feeding our kids healthy, wholesome foods at every meal and snack. But the reality is that sometimes life gets in the way and it just doesn’t always happen. We need backup as parents……..and when I say backup I really mean resources. When it comes to nutrition and eating there are literally thousands of different places you can turn to on the internet to get resources about what to feed your kids, how to feed your kids, when to feed your kids what food and the list could go on and on. It is true that different things work for different kids, but I have found that the following tips have helped my own children to be good eaters.
1) Set an Example.
By far the best predictor of children’s eating behavior is the eating patterns of their parents. If you are a picky eater, then its less likely your kids are going to branch out and try different foods. Kids eat what they know, and they won’t ask for a special meal if they do not know it is an option. It all begins at the grocery store. Whatever you bring into your house is what your kids will eat. If there aren’t fruits and vegetables available to them at your house, then they definitely will not eat them! If they see you eating them and if healthy food is served at meals, they are much more likely to eat those foods.
2) Use Integrative Nutrition Plate
The Integrative Nutrition Plate is one of the best visual aids I have come across to teach kids about portion size, balance and variety. Unlike the food guide pyramid, the Integrative Nutrition Plate is a visual aid that you can use with your kids to learn from every time they eat. When I use this plate at meals, my kids definitely eat a more balanced meal and consume more fruits and vegetables than they would otherwise. Additionally, I prepare more balanced meals because I have to think about what I am going to put in each section. I truly believe that using this plate with your kids is one of the best ways to helping your kids be better eaters. I have found from my own personal experience, that consistently using this plate at meals has changed the way I think about food. It has definitely changed the way my kids think about food.
3) Make food fun
Kids love to play make believe and they also love games. We made a game we call “Food Or Crap” (pictured below). Using grocery store fliers and magazines, my kids cut out foods and categorized them as “Food” or “Crap” on notecards. We use the cards to play a guessing game is this REAL food that nourishes or is it FILLER food with little to no nutritional value? Green beans might not be super appealing to a child who was hoping for mac and cheese. Relating healthy food to fun things the child already loves and turning it into a game is a great way to get a young child to enjoy eating foods they might not normally want to eat.
4) Get them involved
Children are more likely to eat the foods served at a meal if they help prepare it. I have found that letting your kids be involved from the beginning of food preparation – the grocery store – helps them to be excited to eat the food you are preparing. Having a garden teaches kids about where food comes from, and gives them a chance to eat fresh produce right from the backyard. Letting them clean carrots, snap beans, mix the dressing and set the table gives them a sense of pride and makes them more enthusiastic and cooperative at meal time.
5) Offer diverse food colors
We all eat with our eyes, but children especially do this. Fruits and vegetables add a lot of color to a plate and you can expose them to more colors by adding more fruits and veggies. While adults tend to like flavors mingled together, children often prefer them separate. Using the Integrative Nutrition Plate helps not only to show you what foods you should have on your plate, but keeps food separate which kids love.
In addition to the tips mentioned above, my partner and I make it a priority we share our meals together. Because we are a blended family we share custody (which means our combined children are in our home half the week and our ex’s take the other half) so the evenings and weekends that we have our kids is all about quality time.
We all come together and connect around the kitchen table, sharing a healthy, home cooked meal and take turns expressing our daily gratitude .Nothing is more rewarding than hearing my 14 year old son, my 10 year old bonus-son, and my 7 year old bonus-daughter declare, “I’m grateful for the healthy food we have in front of us” followed by compliments and appreciation. Now that’s Buddha Belly satisfying!
What are some ways you promote healthy eating habits with your kids?