9 Tips For Raising Healthy Eaters
by: Stephanie Merino
We live in a country saturated with fast food restaurants and junk food commercials. Thankfully, with the increase of these “convenience foods” has come an increase of awareness on what it means to be a healthy eater. And for most with that raised awareness, we understand that convenience doesn’t always mean healthy. Everyday can be a challenge when it comes to health, nutrition and raising my family, so I do my best to stay current, yet mindful of this busy life we share.
I’m an engineer, wife, and mother of two young children. I’m not a nutritionist and I don’t obsess about my health but I do take it seriously. Here are some tips & ideas our family has used to keep our kids eating healthy. If I can do it, you can too!
1. Talk about it!!
Never underestimate a kid. Even the littlest of littles can understand what a good food is. In our house we don’t talk much about foods “that will make you fat” but more about what foods are healthy and why. They have learned that sugar cereal is a treat, not a meal. And from experience with different people in their lives, they even know about heart disease and diabetes. Vitamins are more than just a Flintstone chewable treat, they are in everything! Adding a supplement to their diets is important to us, we like Animal Parade Children’s Chewable Children’s Dietary Supplements. And your kid can learn that too. Mine are constantly asking us, “what’s this good for?” Whether it’s protein, vitamins, calcium they get it! Of course serious subject matter is hard for kids to understand at young ages, but by taking baby steps and slowly introducing simple topics, you will prepare them for a lifetime of knowledge and understanding. What food conversations do you have with your little ones and what age did you start? Was the process, and their understanding different with your 2nd or 3rd child? Post a comment, we would love to hear from you.
2. Balance meals!!
We all do the best we can to make sure our kids’ plates are loaded with all of the right things. My husband and I have a rule for the two of us to fill up on our protein & veggies first that our kids have kind of adopted, as well. It works! My daughter detests mac & cheese and pasta is only eaten with a protein and veggies. It is important to get an honest full belly, not a belly full of food that will burn off as sugar and make a starving kid an hour later. Try a couple years of this eating pattern, and maybe it will help ensure your kids choosing foods that keep them fuller, longer and give them proper energy.
Where I grew up we didn’t have the luxury of having fresh, local produce year- round. We were stuck in the winter time in Montana, with canned or frozen vegetables on a 3-5 day rotation. And the meat was whatever my dad hunted or fished that was sitting in the freezer. Fortunately, I now in southern California I can get fresh vegetables whenever I want as well as a variety of meat and fish! I, personally, would be perfectly content eating the same thing over & over if it tasted good but we all know how easy it can be to bore a child. Instead of the same three things in their lunch each day, how about a little bit of several different things? They make some great compact containers with separators that are perfect for variety. Reusable snack bags we use so you can pack a variety of items but not harm environment (too many plastic baggies). Or you can try bento box containers for variety. Try something new as often as possible!
4. Healthy snacks!!
Simple. If the kids get hungry between meals, make the snacks healthy so they don’t ruin their appetite. Some favorites in our house are: avocados, dried fruit (unsweetened), and mixed tree nuts. Do they ever eat chips & crackers? Sure! But, I do my best to offer snacks with a nutritional value. In addition to providing the best balanced meals for your family, you should try and do so with snacks as well. Forgive yourself parents, there is NO perfect way to do this, but just a little research and prep into what makes a tummy fill up and stay satisfied can do the trick. Visit the Food Network Blog to find some healthy food tips. What are your favorite snacks and do you have rules about “snacking” between meals? Post a comment for us, families LOVE to share!
5. Make it fun!!
Kids are all about fun! It may not seem that exciting but my kids really enjoy dipping. They love getting apples or celery or pretzels in their lunches with some kind of nut butter to dip into. Shapes are always a winner, and if you can’t find pre-made shapes that are healthy, then get creative Moms and Dads. How about cookie cutter sandwiches? Whole wheat waffles shaped like Mickey Mouse, or fruit kabobs make a fabulous breakfast and it’s not too time consuming (you could even add blueberries or bananas into the batter). There are endless ideas out there!
6. Involve them!!
Bring them along to the store! My kids always look forward to our Sunday Farmer’s Market because I let them pick out their favorite fruit to eat for the week and a veggie side for a meal. We end up with things like brussel sprouts, artichokes(my daughter’s favorite), and bok choy. “You picked it out so you have to eat it!” They also love to help out with meals – whether it’s snapping the stems off beans, mixing ingredients together, or making skewers, they want to be involved. If you pack lunches for school each day, give them some boundaries and have them pack their own. How can they not resist eating what they have helped prepare?
7. Plant a garden!!
Last fall my husband built a wonderful garden box for me in our small backyard. We immediately planted a variety of veggies and herbs and had great results! This spring some friends gave us some lettuce starters from their garden to transplant in ours and a handful of pea seeds that sprouted and are growing like crazy.
The kids have been involved every step of the way – planting, watering, waiting, picking, eating… They can’t wait to get their hands on the beautiful veggies they’ve helped grow. How could they NOT??! Not to mention, it saves me a shopping trip or 2 and a few extra dollars in my bank account.
8. Hide them!!
If all else fails, hide the vegetables! Many flavors and textures that turn kids off can be hidden in other foods. I’m notorious for sneaking zucchini into pastas or kale and carrots into fruit smoothies. Do you make homemade pizzas? Throw a layer of spinach on top of the sauce before the cheese and other toppings. They will probably never notice it’s in there!
9. Start young!!
Old habits are hard to break. The earlier you can get your kids on track, the better. Start in utero, then grow from there. As a nursing Mom to both of my kids, I was able to start them off right by feeding myself the essential nutrients and balanced diet I needed and wanted for my new babies. Showing by example is a great start to a lifelong pattern of making the right choices. I was also fortunate to have kids in a preschool that required healthy balanced lunches & also made the kids eat their sandwich or other “main dish” first. Since this was usually the most filling & nutritional part of their meal, this good habit made meal time easier at home. Kids get hungry at school and instead of starving themselves, they will eat what you pack them!