By Jared Pennington
Proper nutrition is vitally important for children. It keeps them healthy, provides their growing bodies sustenance, and allows their minds to fully engage in their education. A study of children eating habits also suggests that the foods that parents feed them when they are young directly affect the foods they will crave and choose to eat when they are older. There are a few rare cases where children pave their own way to healthy diets, but many more children continue to unconsciously seek out food that their childhood has taught them to crave. Below I will provide some guidelines that will promote a lifetime of healthy eating.
Know how much your child should eat. You know the proper portion size for your child. Children are able to self-regulate their own food intake. Healthy children should be allowed to determine when they are full. Forcing a child to eat more than they can will teach children to ignore their body’s cues. This could lead to years overeating and obesity.
Model good eating habits. Children will feel better about trying new foods and even grow to like a food when they observe their parents eating the food. Healthy or unhealthy, whichever you choose, you are choosing for them as well. Due to the importance of modeling good eating habits, it is paramount that you sit down as a family to eat.
Model good behavior with friends of the child. As the children grow their peers will affect their eating habits a lot more. Eventually they will observe and to like the foods they see their peers enjoying. While you can’t control the eating habits of other children, you could talk to the parent of one of your child’s friends. You can work together to teach healthy eating for both children.
Urge children to try new food multiple times. People tend to dislike foreign foods on the first try. We just can’t get paste the weird flavor, texture, or smell. Children like other adults can learn to like a food. You should urge a child to try a new food at least 10 times before accepting that they do not like the food.
Bribe children into eating. Let them develop the taste for healthy foods naturally. While bribing a child to eat healthy fruits and vegetables with ice cream or a new videogame might provide the proper nutrients that night, it will not foster healthy eating habits. The problem is that the bribe teaches the children that ice cream is desirable and healthy fruits and vegetables are undesirable. Before the bribe they might have learned to like peas. After the bribe they have had their own belief that peas are bad reinforced. This belief could carry into adulthood.
Use food as a punishment or punish a child because of food. As I said above, you do not want to connect healthy eating with negative emotions or actions. Sending a child to their room because they won’t eat or forcing a child to eat vegetables because they were bad will not teach your child to eat healthy. Instead it will reinforce their belief that the food is bad. It could potentially lead to overeating, binging on unhealthy foods, and childhood and adult obesity.
Do not restrict all unhealthy food. Balance is more important than restriction. Restricting food leads to the child preferring the restricted food. Once the child has access to unhealthy food they will overindulge which could lead to obesity. Humans crave fatty, sugary foods. Instead of starving this craving, you can teach children how to determine how much sugary foods they can eat daily and still be healthy.
Whether you like it or not, you are already affecting your children’s relationship to food. It is vitally important to know how your healthy food tactics affect your children. By incorporating these guidelines into your daily life, you and your children will be taking your first step towards a healthy lifestyle.
– Jared Pennington is a health and wellness writer who spent the majority of his youth sitting at a table staring at a plate of peas and dreaming of greasy fast food. He didn’t adopt a healthy lifestyle until a college class discussed the psychology behind eating habits. When he’s not working out or searching for new healthy recipes on the internet, he writes for Just Home Medical, a supplier of home aides such as grab bars to assist the injured and disabled.