How Kids Learn to Eat Healthy
It goes without saying that parents want their children to commit to a healthy lifestyle; to be healthy and safe from any disease. But this is easier said than done. To succeed, you need to adopt an open, accepting, and positive attitude instead of simply telling or forcing your children to be healthy, especially teens.
Children are influenced by what they see and admire from people they love and trust. So as much as they love you, they can sense if you are faking how you feel about a certain type of food that you want them to eat. You may express how you hate certain foods (e.g. meat or spinach) but because you know its benefits, you try to convince your children to eat it anyway. Your children can see and sense this discrepancy, even if you are trying to show otherwise. Unfortunately, this attitude may make your children lose their trust in you. So first and foremost, make sure your relationship with your children is built around mutual trust and respect.
Here is how you can encourage and cultivate healthy habits at home:
Focus on what’s already working
When they do eat healthy, praise their efforts and talk about the benefits of what they are eating instead of looking at what they’re not doing.
Involve your children in meal planning
This could be done on regular daily basis or weekly basis depending on what works best for you. Go shopping together and let them experience natural colors and smells (but make sure they are not hungry to avoid quick unhealthy snacking during shopping).
If there is a food they don’t like, replace it with another. For instance, if you are serving chicken with mushrooms and you know that they don’t like mushrooms–omit the mushrooms (maybe have it on its own as a side dish) and serve the chicken with another salad or vegetable they do like to provide them with the nutrients they are missing from not eating the mushrooms.
I remember when I started juicing and my little daughter was having fun helping me out. She decided to add parsley to a juice was making. I thought to myself “This is going in the sink” (even though I like to eat parsley, I never imagined I would drink it). Surprisingly, it was delicious and now I put parsley in all my juices and hers too!
Lead by example
Another tactic that is really effective is eating the food yourself and talking about how well you feel when you do. Also, engage in an interesting conversation when you are both in the mood for it. Gently explain your view of a healthy lifestyle and its impact on one’s life, performance, and happiness. You can also look for stories about celebrities or their favorite characters who are adopting a healthy lifestyle, and share it with them verbally or on social media.
A supportive environment
You can help your children (and yourself) by clearing out your kitchen cabinets and reducing unhealthy or tempting items to a minimum, or making them inaccessible to them. Willpower is weak especially at night or when they return from school, and during exams so I don’t recommend that you depend on it. Make healthy items more accessible and available using attractive boxes and plates.
Don’t be stubborn
If they still don’t like a particular food, drop it for a while and try again later. And when it comes to indulgences, young children and teens are influenced by their peers so be flexible during social gatherings or outings.
Be prepared for rejection
I am a big food fan, yet I remember certain foods that I hated as a child (as I an adult I then found ways to to enjoy these foods in my own way). So when they tell you they don’t like to eat something, just try to understand what exactly it is that they don’t like: the look, the smell, the taste, the texture?
And then ask them how they would like to have it? Or even better ask them if they would like to prepare it with you and take their suggestions into consideration.
Any change in food or any other life style habit requires an adjustment to taste buds and brain signals, so make it gradual and give it time. Always remember that the journey is as important as the destination. Any pressure may turn them off forever, so be open and flexible about it. They may be closer to changing their habits than you think.