Raising a healthy eater is a valuable gift you can give your child that will benefit them for a lifetime. It sets the stage for a lifelong relationship with food, fostering good eating habits, and promoting overall health and well-being. According to this article in the New England Journal of Medicine, obesity reduces lifespan by 5-20 years. This is only one of many reasons we want to raise a healthy eater.
I know from experience that eating healthy food is somewhat like swimming upstream in our society. Not just special events like parties or holidays; junk food is prevalent everywhere, from the checkout line to school lunches, even at church! Mama, take a deep breath- I had to learn with my controlling nature that they aren’t going to die of malnutrition from having junk food every once in awhile! If you remember that it’s how you eat the majority of the time, it takes off some major pressure. Remember, it’s what we do 80% of the time that most determines our overall health. In the same way, how you feed them at home goes a long way in counteracting those inevitable junk food encounters outside our home.
Let’s explore some strategies and tips I’ve learned with my kids on how to raise a healthy eater.
Be a Positive Role Model
Children often mimic the behaviors of those around them, especially their parents. As a Christian parent, I know this is true in the spiritual realm. We are responsible for leading them to Christ, teaching them to love others, being kind and generous, and many more godly traits.
By modeling healthy eating habits, you show your child that making nutritious choices is a natural part of life. Let them see you enjoying a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole foods. One beauty of homeschooling is that we had all three meals together during the day. If we had a more “carb-filled” breakfast, I would explain that we didn’t get in any fruits or vegetables yet, then I’d pile them on at lunch! I have always explained why we avoid certain foods and choose others. And don’t forget teaching them to read labels! It’s so simple to explain that if they can’t pronounce it, they shouldn’t be eating it!
Introduce a Variety of Foods
Exposing your child to a wide range of foods from an early age can help develop their taste preferences. I’m so thankful that I embarked on my own health journey when my boys were toddlers. They experienced very little processed foods, and I always knew I wasn’t going to prepare separate foods for picky eaters. From the time they could eat table food, they ate everything we ate. There’s really no such thing as “kid food”- it’s really just NON food that no one should eat!
Try offering different fruits, vegetables, proteins, and grains, and encourage them to try new things. Variety not only provides a broad spectrum of nutrients but also helps prevent food aversions.
If you are a bit late in the game and have older kids that are set in their ways, there are still some great ideas you can try! For my clients, I always advise that they make healthier swaps of their favorite foods. Buy the organic version of their favorite cereal, or make at home yummy desserts or pizza. You would be amazed at the chemicals and artificial ingredients your family will be avoiding simply by making it at home. Also remember: they can’t eat something that isn’t there! Replace the junk food you have currently with healthier snack options.
Involve Your Kids in Meal Planning and Preparation
Allow your child to participate in choosing recipes, shopping for ingredients, and helping with meal preparation. My all-time favorite helper here is having a garden! You will not only have fresh, healthy foods, but they are all just outside your back door! They will be more invested in eating these healthy veggies if they get a say in what is planted, then help tend the plants as well. My blog post here discusses some practical ideas on gardening from seed versus plant.
Teach your kids how to cook! All my kids were responsible for making dinner one night a week by the time they were 13. This is a skill they will need as they’re older, so why not let them take the load off you every once in awhile? Have them look through some cookbooks and choose what they will make. You can also start by having them in the kitchen watching you and helping to stir or chop.
Stick to Regular Eating Times
A huge health concern for Americans is how frequently we eat. Our bodies can’t heal and be healthy if we are CONSTANTLY digesting food from munching every couple of hours. This goes for our kids. The only time something should be put in a belly of any size more frequently than every four hours is when there is an infant involved!
When you establish regular eating times, it creates a beautiful routine for your kids, and even helps secure a healthy circadian rhythm (which means more sleep for everyone!). Another benefit to regular meals is that it encourages healthy eating. If your kids are constantly munching on refined or processed junk food, they will never desire something nutritious. But if there is no snacking or grazing, they will actually be hungry and ready to eat a balanced meal when the family eats. Healthy foods look way more appealing when there isn’t an option for something else.
Reach out and let me know if you try any of these tips. Blessings in raising a healthy eater!