Here, we explore 7 ways in which you can encourage healthy eating in your children.
1. Lead by example. This is the simplest, and perhaps the most important, way in which we can encourage healthy eating for our children. Modelling behaviour is one of the most effective ways to teach our children about the ways of the world – from how we treat others, to how we treat ourselves. If our children see us strong, healthy and eating whole foods then we are setting them a strong example of what it means to be a responsible adult who takes care of themselves.
2. Focus on the right foods. It can be easy to worry about fruit and vegetables and think of them as the be all/end all of nutrition. The truth is that, whilst adults require a large amount of vegetables in their diet, young children rely more heavily on fats during their early years. Though fats have often been demonised in the media and scapegoated as the cause of obesity and heart disease, increasingly experts are learning that healthy fats are essential to good health. Children, in particular, require a diet that is high in healthy fats. Breastmilk, for example, is at least 55% saturated fat and there is no age at which fats instantly become bad for us. Take care to avoid trans-fats/hydrogenated fats, but be sure to offer butter, cheese, eggs, fish, coconut oil, avocados and other sources of nutritious saturated fats on a daily basis to ensure optimal growth, brain development and nutrient absorption.
Meanwhile, avoid filling up on low nutrient foods like bread, rice, pasta and cereals. These foods can exacerbate illness in large quantities and are often empty filler foods that take the place of more nutritious alternatives. They also spike blood sugar, leading to further cravings for similar foods.
“Cooking is an essential skill that we can begin to learn at any age. “
3. Get them involved. Cooking is an essential skill that we can begin to learn at any age. It’s a great way to learn about the foods we eat, where they come from and how to prepare them. It’s also a creative skill that older children will begin to appreciate more when it comes to putting different flavours together. Learning to cook with whole ingredients reduces the risk of children growing into adults who eat a diet heavy in processed foods. What’s more – Children are significantly more likely to try, and even enjoy, food that they have cooked themselves or played a role in putting together.
4. Talk to them. Whether your is receptive to your attempts to encourage them or not, one of the most important things you can do for your child’s relationship with food is to educate them. Talking to them about the role of food as fuel for our bodies and the importance of picking the right fuel to ensure we are healthy and not sick is a conversation that can, and should, begin at the earliest opportunity. Whether they choose to listen or not, the knowledge is invaluable and will help them to make connections between when they are feeling good and when they are feeling not so good as a result of their own choices.
5. Get creative. Bake cakes with carrot and courgette in them , sweetened with honey. Bake chocolate brownies with coconut flour, sweet potato and coconut oil. Make a chocolate pudding with cocoa powder, coconut milk and avocado. There are many ways to experiment with food in order to make highly nutritious foods taste appealing to children.
6. Relax. Relaxing when it comes to food is almost impossible to do. Sometimes it seems like your child is the only one not eating vegetables or who refuses to try new things. It’s quite natural for children to behave in this way, bitter tastes are more intense for them and young children tend to trust in the familiar much more. Both of these are inbuilt safety mechanisms for our vulnerable early years. Thankfully, they are both things that we naturally outgrow. Fretting over our children’s habits can cause more problems than simply letting them get on with it and appreciating that they will outgrow their fussiness in time.
7. Take a step back. Perhaps the hardest step of all, but many experts agree – food freedom is important. In our haste to encourage healthy habits, we can often make the mistake of making other foods into forbidden fruits. Many overweight adults will remember that their access to “junk” was restricted or forbidden as a child and so, as an adult, they came to love and binge on it rather than snubbing it as their parents clearly hoped. The single greatest way to learn how to live healthily alongside anything that is unhealthy in the modern world is to explore it, to give it no alluring forbidden status and to learn about it properly. The best time to learn about self-control and self-regulation is as early as possible.