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6 Tips to Raise Healthy Eaters

6 Tips to Raise Healthy Eaters

Use these simple tips to help your kids understand how to make wholesome food choices on their own and to create an environment that will nurture healthy food habits as they grow.

Work with your kids’ natural preferences.
Kids require frequent refueling–and they’d love to do it with fudge cookies and lollipops. “Children are born with a natural taste and desire for sweet foods and carbohydrates,” says Joel Fuhrman, MD, board certified family physician and author of Disease Proof Your Child, (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006). Instead of fighting a sweet tooth, offer healthier treats, such as a colorful array of fresh fruit. “Preparation is key,” says Jay Holt, a nutritionist in St. Petersburg, Florida, and author of The Adventures of Tommy the Tomato (JR Holt Publishing, 2007). “Always have a fruit salad ready to go, or frozen banana, or apples to spread with almond butter. That way, kids will have a fast, nutritious alternative to a cookie.”

Involve the whole family
Cooking with your children helps you get them invested in making healthy choices and explain the nutritional value of various foods. At the grocery store, let them choose the fruits and vegetables that appeal to them, or make a game of it: Ask them to find their favorite green, orange, and red vegetables, or to choose which nuts or beans they’d like to add to a salad.

Encourage children to think about food
Raising healthy eaters also means helping them understand what their bodies are asking for, when they’re thirsty or hungry, and the difference between eating until they’re satisfied versus stuffed. Don’t get heavy or intense about it; just make the occasional observation, then let it go. And forget the clean-plate club–it’s the fastest way to encourage kids to ignore their bodies’ messages.

Don’t reward or punish with food
This sends the subtle message that food equals love and approval–a dangerous message, and one that’s hard to escape later in life. Instead of using food as a reward, offer treats that have more to do with connecting–a trip to their favorite park, hugs, an extra book at bedtime. And don’t fall into the “If you eat your peas, you’ll get your pie” trap. It makes dessert more valuable than vegetables–not a lesson you want to teach.

Take charge
Sometimes we’re so fearful of creating negative food relationships for our children that we shy away from insisting on good eating habits. Insist your children eat at least a portion of fruits or vegetables at every meal, and that they minimize sweets, refined carbs, and unhealthy fats. Tell them why that’s your rule–because you love them and want them to be healthy. “There’s no reason to be fearful of that message,” says Fuhrman, “or to believe that it will set up unhealthy emotional eating patterns later in life.”

Realize that it takes time
This will take time and repetition. Your kids may put up a fight, especially at first, and there will be setbacks. Stay calm and be matter-of-fact. Also avoid power struggles, and continue to set a good example with your own food choices. “They’ll notice what you and the rest of the family are eating,” says Pavka. “At some point, they’ll just come along for the ride.”

Delicious Living is the go-to resource for the natural and organic lifestyle, helping readers eat well, live green, and stay healthy. Visit deliciouslivingmag.com for more articles and free recipes.

Read more: Children, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Family, Food, , , ,

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13 comments

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8:18AM PST on Dec 25, 2011

Thank you

10:13AM PST on Dec 23, 2011

Kids eat way too much sugary/salty food these days. Yummy fruit and vegetables with low calorie dip should be offered more often.

1:11PM PDT on Mar 16, 2011

In dealing with my super duper picky eater I have found that SOME compromise has worked the best for us.
I've swapped the gross, GMO-containing chicken nuggets out for Quorn brand chicken nuggets which are made from mycoprotein and are significantly healthier.
No more canned sweet potatoes. I buy them fresh (and local) and cook them on an as needed basis.
Cereal, organic.
Milk & eggs, local.
Sausage, antibiotic and hormone free.
Tomato soup, organic.
Pancakes, I mix in as much whole wheat flour as I can get away with without detection.
And so on. The little differences add up.

2:14AM PST on Feb 11, 2010

I'd just add that emphasizing everything in moderation helps children develop a healthy attitude towards food, in regards to eating disorder prevention (about which I'm very passionate). The concept of "good" and "bad" foods sets eating up as a moral dilemma, which creates all sorts of problems down the road, especially in adolescence when children strive to reject their parents' morality and form their own.

r4 revolution

6:15AM PDT on Sep 7, 2009

I've got a couple of picky eaters. I do empathize with anyone who has the choice of either feeding their kid(s) stuff they know is bad or them not eating at all.

The last thing you want to do is turn meal times into a high pressure situation. Though I find it frustrating and haven't always reacted well to (mainly my son's) very limited palate, I've discovered progress can be made if you are vigilant but relaxed about it....it will take time.

9:07PM PDT on Sep 5, 2009

When my kids were younger, I followed the above mentioned suggestions. Our rule was to try a teaspoonful of everything new, not just once, but every time.(" A teaspoonful will not harm you.") I had read that it may take kids up to 20 tries before they like a new food and most parents give up too soon.

Here are some more things I did:
We gave some foods cute names like snowballs for cauliflower and trees for broccoli.
I offered them special sauces and dips for their veggies.
I experimented with different ways of preparing veggies: raw, cooked, fried, mixed in food I knew they liked etc...
Now that they are teenagers they try any new food I serve and eat a variety of vegetables.

6:36PM PDT on Sep 5, 2009

Good article, but one simple thing is to not have any junk food in the house in the first place.
One thing though, is that the brain of growing up kids need a LOT of carbohydrates to function. Carbohydrate is the brain's food, so let them eat their carbs too. Even if you don't, their body will transform the other food you feed them on into carbohydrates inside the body anyway, but it will require more food and more energy too. They crave for the carbohydrates because they really need them. Just give them healthy ones, not cookies and bland white refined bread.

5:34PM PDT on Sep 5, 2009

I did the same thing when my kids starting eating, giving them wholesome foods and now they eat a lot of varied foods without any problem.

9:12AM PDT on Sep 5, 2009

Cindy, that may work for some kids, but my son would literally starve if I didn't make him food that he will eat. He was born a picky eater (my husband is picky as well) and is very skinny, so if I wait for him to decide to eat something out of hunger, it will never happen. Believe me, I've tried.

8:24AM PDT on Sep 5, 2009

I second Jen's comment about preparation - use butter, salt, sugar, seasonings, etc...just as you would yourself but in smaller quantities to make foods taste better. Too many baby food books focus on bland unseasoned foods. There's nothing wrong with a little bit of spice. And if you don't like a certain food, you don't have to pretend to your kids to like it - you can simply show no emotions.

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