With the childhood obesity crisis making the news just about every week, it’s important for parents and nannies to encourage healthy eating habits in kids. The habits they learn now will influence how they eat throughout their lifetime. Here are some tips that will help you keep your child’s diet on the right track and give him the knowledge and skills he needs to make life long healthy eating choices.
- Introduce a variety of foods at a young age. It’s easy for toddlers to get stuck in a chicken nugget (or other favorite food) rut. While you shouldn’t try and force your child to eat a particular food, you can limit the amount you offer of an unhealthy but favorite food choice, and instead offer a wide variety of other healthy options. By giving your child lots of choices and letting him decide which foods he’ll have and how much he’ll eat, you’ll avoid the power struggles this age is known for.
- Keep lots of healthy snacks on hand. Kids of all ages snack several times throughout the day. This intermittent eating is actually a healthy way to consume the daily calories they need, however, children can get into nutritional trouble when snack time is seen as an excuse to have sugary foods. Stock your pantry and refrigerator with lots of healthy choices, such as fruit, bite sized vegetables, low fat yogurt, nuts and cheese. A quick online search will turn up literally hundreds of healthy snack ideas. Having these types of snacks available will help kids make tasty, nutritious choices.
- Don’t try to keep your child completely away from sweets. Sweets are not bad when eaten with awareness and in moderation. Helping your child make good choices about sweets is an important part of preparing him to maintain a healthy diet outside of your home. Let’s face it, when your child gets older he will have to make food choices at school, at friends’ homes, and in many other situations. By not making sweets taboo, you make it much more likely that he’ll eat them in smart moderation when they’re offered.
- Avoid high sugar processed foods, soda and energy drinks. The American Heart Association found children as young as 1 to 3 years typically consume around 12 teaspoons of sugar per day. By the time a child is 4 to 8 years old, he consumes an average of 21 teaspoons of sugar per day. This problem only gets worse with age, with children who are in the 14 to 18 year age range averaging about 34.3 teaspoons every day. Those amounts are more than 3 times the recommended amount for a healthy diet. Avoiding a lot of processed foods and sugary drinks is one of the easiest ways to curb your child’s sugar consumption. There are plenty of foods like fruit and milk that contain natural sugar to satisfy your child’s sweet tooth.
- Don’t make fast food a habit. Going through the drive through on the way home from ballet class or a soccer game is a quick and easy way to solve the question, “What’s For Dinner?” However, fast food is filled with fat, sugar, preservatives and lots of calories. It’s one of the leading contributors to obesity, heart disease and many other health complications. Do meal planning and grocery shopping in advance when your days or nights are going to allow you little time to make a healthy dinner. With a little planning and advance preparation, healthy can also be quick.
- Get kids involved in cooking. Kids love to help out in the kitchen. When they’re involved in meal planning and cooking, they’re more likely to eat healthy options without a lot of pushing back. Learning to cook at a young age will also help them develop the skills they’ll need as young adults, when they’ll need to prepare healthy choices for themselves. Even the youngest child can help pour ingredients, stir and mix. Cooking together is also a great way to connect as a family.
- Grow a garden. Gardening is a wonderful family activity. Allowing your child to participate in the food cycle from the very beginning gives him a real understanding of where the food on the table comes from. This helps him learn to appreciate fresh and organic choices and turn away from highly processed foods. It also helps him to understand the importance of protecting the environment, gives him first-hand experience with sustainability issues, and connects him to the earth in a meaningful way.