Parenting is a tough job. Sometimes it can have its ups and downs feeling like a roller coaster ride gone off the tracks. A big part of parenting is feeding children - sounds easy right? But ask any parent and they will tell you this is one area that is either completely frustrating or completely enjoyable and satisfying.
Parents are their children’s first role models. Kids watch everything you do including what you eat or don’t eat and how you respond to food. Because kids emulate their parents, good role-modeling lays the groundwork of helping your child develop life-long healthy eating habits. When the whole family is involved, everyone will learn this important and necessary tool of their lifetime journey of dealing with food and how healthy food choices improves lifelong overall wellness and health.
Here is how parents can create this scenario of establishing healthy eating habits from the beginning of their children’s lives:
· Prepare healthier foods
Every member of the family should be served and eating healthy foods – children are more likely to eat healthfully if they see the whole family eating well. By following the MyPlate format where half of the plate is devoted to vegetables and fruits, one quarter of the plate for whole grains and the other quarter of the plate served with a healthy protein source, this can provide a child with the vital nutrients they need to support their growth and health.
· Plan and prepare meals together
Involve your child in menu planning and meal preparation. This teaches your child about nutrition helping them make their own food choices in the future. It also increases the likelihood of a child to at least try food they help prepare.
Sit down once a week, plan a basic menu for meals eaten together, take them with you grocery shopping and let them help prepare and cook food with respect to their age and what is safe for them to do. When kids help out with meal preparation, this is building their self-confidence, spurs interest in food and cooking and prepares them for later on in life on knowing how to take care of themselves.
· Schedule regular mealtimes
This is easier said than done but do try to arrange the family’s schedule so that meals can be served at predictable times. Without scheduled mealtimes, children tend to snack more on convenient foods which may be high in calories, sugar, and fat. When mealtimes are not on a regular, consistent schedule, children may also overeat during the other meals of the day.
Here are some tips to make regular mealtimes happen:
· Have breakfast together – set the table the night before
· Plan ahead – prepare foods ahead of time. Make casseroles, burritos, lasagna, meatloaf or pasta ahead of time and reheat when it’s time to eat.
· Double your recipes – freeze half to use at another time.
· Make mealtimes pleasant
Mealtime is a time for families coming together at the end of the day to share with one another the highlights of their day. Don’t let mealtimes become a battlefield turning into arguments or disagreements. Set rules not allowing fighting or complaining at the dinner table.
If mealtimes are stressful, children will eat fast so they can leave the table as soon as possible. This can lead them to linking eating with stress. Talk about positive things and leave more negative issues to be discussed later away from the dinner table.
· Avoid the clean plate club
Don’t let your child become a lifelong charter member of the “clean your plate” club. When parents make their children always clean their plate before they can leave the dinner table, this causes undue stress and only teaches the child they have to please their parent in order to avoid punishment. Eating then becomes more of a performance issue instead of a way to be healthy enjoy themselves.
Help your child learn that they don’t have to eat every bite of food placed in front of them. Instead they should learn to eat just until they feel satisfied.
Using a hunger/fullness scale can help a child learn when to stop eating to avoid overeating and weight gain.
· Don’t use food to punish or reward
When it comes time to discipline a child, don’t do it with food. Cutting out food to punish a child can result in anxiety with the child worrying if they will be able to eat or have to go hungry. This can lead to overeating or eating very fast in fear they may not get enough to eat later on.
At the same time, do not use food as a reward. When rewarded with sweets or dessert, children may decide that these foods are better or more valuable than healthier food. This belief can be hard to break and may continue throughout their lifetime. Here are other ways to reward a child without food:
· Let them have a friend spend the night
· Time alone with mom or dad
· A new book
· A trip to the movies or museum
· A day at the park, pool, roller rink, or bowling alley