Many children and families today have busy schedules. These make it hard to sit down to homemade meals every day. Many kids’ diets involve a lot of convenience and takeout food. But these foods can be unhealthy. They can have a negative effect on your child’s health. Some of the problems unhealthy eating causes can continue into adulthood. They can even develop into lifelong diseases.
Here are 6 key rules to live by:
- Parents control the supply lines. You decide which foods to buy and when to serve them. Though kids will pester their parents for less nutritious foods, adults should be in charge when deciding which foods are regularly stocked in the house. Kids won’t go hungry. They’ll eat what’s available in the cupboard and fridge at home. If their favorite snack isn’t all that nutritious, you can still buy it once in a while so they don’t feel deprived.
- Quit the “clean-plate club.” Let kids stop eating when they feel they’ve had enough. Lots of parents grew up under the clean-plate rule, but that approach doesn’t help kids listen to their own bodies when they feel full. When kids notice and respond to feelings of fullness, they’re less likely to overeat.
- Rewrite the kids’ menu. Who says kids only want to eat hot dogs, pizza, burgers, and macaroni and cheese? When eating out, let your kids try new foods and they might surprise you with their willingness to experiment. You can start by letting them try a little of whatever you ordered or ordering an appetizer for them to try.
- Put sweets in their place. Occasional sweets are fine, but don’t turn dessert into the main reason for eating dinner. When dessert is the prize for eating dinner, kids naturally place more value on the cupcake than the broccoli. Try to stay neutral about foods.
- Drink calories count. Soda and other sweetened drinks add extra calories and get in the way of good nutrition.Water and milk are the best drinks for kids. Juice is fine when it’s 100%, but kids don’t need much of it — 4 to 6 ounces a day is enough for preschoolers.
- Limit TV and computer time. When you do, you’ll avoid mindless snacking and encourage activity. Research has shown that kids who cut down on TV watching also reduced their percentage of body fat. When TV and computer time are limited, they’ll find more active things to do. And limiting “screen time” means you’ll have more time to be active together.
Healthful eating has many benefits for children. It can:
- Stabilize their energy.
- Improve their minds.
- Even out their moods.
- Help them maintain a healthy weight.
- Help prevent mental health conditions. These include depression, anxiety, and ADHD.
Make fruits and veggies more appealing
The first step to making fruits and veggies appealing is to get rid of unhealthy sweet and salty snacks. Your child might want a salty snack, such as potato chips. But if there aren’t any in the house, he or she will be more likely to enjoy carrots with hummus.
After that, try some of these ideas:
- Keep fresh fruit on hand. Keep whole fruit out where your child can see it. Just a bowl with apples and bananas on the kitchen table serves as a reminder. Plus, whole fruit is an easy snack to grab on your way out the door. This is helpful with older children.
- Let kids choose. When you’re shopping, let your child pick what produce sounds good to them. They know what they are more likely to want to eat.
- Hide veggies in other food. Your child will never know he or she is eating vegetables if you hide them in other foods. Shredding them and adding them is an easy way to get them in. You can shred or grate veggies such as zucchini or carrots into stews, spaghetti sauce, meatloaf, or casseroles. Or you can bake them in muffins or breads.
- Use your imagination. To get your little ones to try more fruits and veggies, make it fun. Create a scene on their plate made up of produce. You can use broccoli for trees, cauliflower for clouds, and a slice of yellow squash for a sun. Be creative and make it appealing to them.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Do you recommend a vegetarian or vegan diet for my child?
- Are carbohydrates bad for my child? What about refined carbs?
- Does my child need to be on a gluten-free diet?
- Are soy-based products better than dairy products?
- How can I get my child to eat more vegetables?
- Should I see a nutritionist or dietician to help me develop better habits for my child?