How to Turn your Child into a Healthy Eater

As parents, we want to do everything possible to make our children happy. When it comes to health, it isn’t always easy–kids are notorious for being picky eaters. If left up to them, many children would stick to just three food groups: desserts, goldfish, and dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets! Alas. These narrow tastes can leave us frustrated and desperate for quick solutions. “You’re not leaving the table until you finish your broccoli,” quickly turns into, “fine, you can have extra dessert if you eat your peas without throwing a tantrum!” They say to pick your battles, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Health is a value that is inherently transferred from parent to child. From a young age, our children differentiate between “good” and “bad” foods based on what we teach them. If they are rewarded with unhealthy foods, they will continue to eat and enjoy these foods regularly as they grow. It’s up to us to instill healthy values in our children.

But how?! Fortunately, with a little work, it’s possible to get even the pickiest eaters to enjoy their fruits and vegetables. Here are some tips:

  1. Start a dialogue. When your child asks, “Why do I have to eat my (insert green vegetable here)?!” It’s tempting to respond with, “because I said so.” Instead, explain why that food is a good choice for your child and how it will help him or her grow big and strong. Talking about health is the key to starting a healthy lifestyle. Take your child grocery shopping with you and let them help decide which healthy foods they’d like to try. When you get home, invite your child into the kitchen with you to help cook a meal. Make it fun! Children will be more open to trying something that they helped cook.
  2. Don’t reward bad behavior. Make the same meals for everyone at your table. Don’t make a separate meal for your child because he or she doesn’t like what you’re already cooking. Instead, introduce “scary” foods slowly and incorporate them into dishes that your child already likes. Making a separate meal teaches a child that it isn’t important for him or her to try a new food because there will always be a backup.
  3. Offer Choices. Instead of telling your child what you’ll be preparing for dinner, give them a choice between two healthy options. Say, “do you want carrots or green beans?” instead of “we’re having green beans at dinner.” If children choose which healthy food they’d rather eat, it makes them more inclined to actually eat it. In addition, if your child is hungry (even between meals), offer healthy snack options instead of encouraging him or her to wait for dinner or preparing an unhealthy snack.
  4. Lead by example. Believe it or not, your food choices shape what your child craves. If you expect the rest of the family to eat salad for dinner while you eat pizza, your child will notice! Developing your own healthy habits is beneficial for everyone. In addition, emphasize health rather than dieting or weight loss. Teach your children the importance of long-term, sustainable healthy lifestyles.

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