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Whenever I meet with parent groups, I often get questions not only about WHAT kids should eat (or not eat), but also about HOW to get them to eat healthfully; that is, instill healthy eating habits.
Experts agree that in general, consistently following the 5 suggestions below are often associated with healthier eating habits and overall better diet quality among children in their younger years and over the long-term.
1. Have regular family meals. Everyone is busy but trying to have family dinners is important and is associated with a multitude of healthy behaviors in children. The weekends are a great time to use breakfast or brunch as family time. Try to have a variety of foods available, particularly different vegetables, even if ordering take-out. Keep conversation light and communication open. Talk about food!
2. Serve a variety of healthy foods and snacks. Keep healthy food on hand for prepped and ready-to-eat snacking. Limit offerings of sugary beverages, fast food, and processed “junk” food. Offer meals filled with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein and calcium-rich foods.
3. Model healthy eating and a healthy relationship with food. Studies show that parents are the single biggest influences on children’s eating habits. So eat a variety of healthy foods, show willingness to try new things and don’t make a big deal out of food. Serve appropriate portions and don’t complain about your weight. Messages about food should be positive.
4. Avoid food fights. Don’t force-feed or use food as rewards. Don’t make anything too taboo. Predictable schedules of meals and snacks help take guesswork out of the equation and minimize negotiations.
5. Involve them. By and large, kids are more willing to try and ultimately consume foods they’ve taken part in preparing, selecting, or even growing. There are countless ways for children of all ages to participate.