Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How to Foster Healthy Habits in Kids

Fostering healthy eating habits isn't rocket science, yet it is often considered to be one of the great mysteries of all time: How in the world can I get my kid to eat healthier food? A few simple steps can set the stage for healthier eating in your household while ending (or at least greatly reducing) meal-time stressors.

First, set a good example for your children by eating a wide variety of healthy fruits, vegetables and protein in front of them. Kids are terrific mimics, even in the area of how you eat. If you express negative attitudes about particular foods/food groups, odds are your kids will, too. Keep in mind that "eating healthy" isn't just up to mom. Too often the men in the household treat this role as "women's work." Unfortunately, this feeds (pardon the pun) the idea that eating healthy food is feminine and eating junk food is manly

Feed your kids a balanced diet of healthy foods from a very early age. This will establish healthy eating patterns that become life-long habits. Parents often operate under the mistaken idea that there are "kid foods" and "adult foods," thanks to savvy marketers who work diligently to separate us from our hard-earned money. Most of those "kid foods" are prepackaged, processed foods that offer little to no nutritional value, anyway. Introduce REAL diced apples, chopped pears, lentils and black beans as bite-sized finger foods, rather than the jarred stuff.

Encourage adequate water intake. After weaning, water should be your child's primary beverage - not juice. By working to program your child to drink an 8-ounce glass of water upon waking and before leaving for school, then again upon returning home (along with other times throughout the day), you help to lay a foundation of proper hydration that supports optimal functioning of many of the body's important systems.

Foster a healthy relationship with food. Do not use sweets and junk food as rewards for anything. Doing so gives these foods a place of honor that they do not deserve. Instead, allow them to be a "sometimes" food without any strings attached. Using food as incentives/rewards can set the stage for future emotional eating and eating disorders.

Let kids help in selecting produce at the grocery store and in (even basic) meal preparation. When a child is somehow invested in the process of creating a meal they are much more likely to eat it - even if it consists of foods that they otherwise would "never" eat. Very young children can tear greens (even if only a leaf or two) to "help" make them, or give a bowl of veggies a stir (with your help) even if they are too small to wield a knife. Early elementary school aged kids can assemble salads of prepped veggies, while older kids can easily follow recipes and actually cook.

Organize your kitchen in such a way that even the shortest members of the household have access (when appropriate) to healthy snacks. Small baggies of prepared vegetables in the refrigerator, an easy-to-reach bowl of clementines, single servings of (not microwave!) popped popcorn in the pantry, and a plastic pitcher of water with a lid all help kids to feel a sense of independence and ownership over their "healthy" choices.

Creating healthy eating habits help to foster and support a healthy food culture for every member of the family. If you've got older children and are attempting to shift your family's diet toward healthier food, remember that attitude can be everything. Don't approach this change as something you are doing to them. Instead, get them on board by presenting this as a project for everyone to do together to improve the length and quality of life for every person in the household. You may be surprised at the positive attitudes for this change.

Elemental Fit is a holistic health coaching practice specializing in creating easy-to-implement strategies that can become life-long healthy habits.

Several of these tips are inspired by Staying Healthy with Nutrition: the Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine by Elson Haas, MD.

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