6 Steps to Get Your Kids Eating Healthy
By: Austin Perlmutter, MD, Medical Student, Miller School of Medicine
So you’ve finally decided to eat healthier. Congratulations! This is a major step towards a longer and happier life, and likely you’re already feeling better. The question remains though: now that you’ve made this healthful change, how do you get your kids to follow suit?
As an adult, you can justify healthier foods, since they power your body with clean energy and lead to innumerable benefits to your wellbeing. However, a child’s interest is mainly in the familiar and sugary, the white starches and the salty snacks. In medical school, I’m currently seeing all pediatric patients. Parents continue to tell me that their kids simply won’t eat the healthy options. After working with my pediatrician, we’ve put together six keys to get your kids to eat as healthy as you.
- Don’t give in to your child’s cravings: First and foremost, understand that by giving junk food to your children when they refuse to eat something healthy, you’re doing them a disservice. It’s completely understandable that we’d rather our children eat something than nothing at all. However, if they outright refuse to eat healthy meals in favor of waiting for their favorite snack, they’re manipulating you, and winding up unhealthier for it. Letting your kids be a little hungry because they refused healthy foods isn’t going to hurt them. Once they understand that they can’t just get whatever food they like, they’ll start coming around to what you’d like them to eat.
- Structure your mealtimes: Make your meals family experience by creating a set time and place for meals whenever possible. Data shows that family meals boost the health and general well being of adolescents. When your kids eat with the family, you help them to associate food with a positive group experience. This also prevents them from eating meals on their own, where they’re more likely to choose unhealthy options.
- Create a kitchen open/closed policy: One of the big problems with children’s eating habits is snacking between mealtimes. Science shows that kids who snack more are more obese. To help your children understand that eating happens at meals, and to prevent unlimited access to calories throughout the day, tell your kids that the kitchen is closed between breakfast, lunch and dinner. This will help prevent a detrimental relationship with food created by eating out of boredom. Finally, your children will understand that choosing not to eat dinner means they’ll have to stick it out till morning instead of running to their favorite snack.
- Give choices, within reason: Children love to test boundaries, and when they don’t get their way, we’re all going to hear about it. One way to get kids to eat healthier is to allow them a say in their food choices. Of course, the choice should still be between healthful options, but your children will feel like they get their voices heard, and be more likely to want to eat something good for them
- Stop buying junk food in the first place: This point is perhaps the most crucial. The first rule of eating healthier (for both parents and children) is to remove the temptation. Without purchasing unhealthy foods, you restrict access to the problem. Yes, it may seem hard at first when the kids are craving their favorite cookie, but eventually they’ll understand that that option isn’t available, and find a better alternative.
- Start small and work your way up: Despite these tips, I understand that you’re not going to change your child’s eating habits overnight. Don’t be discouraged! Start by finding one unhealthy eating habit, and working on that first. Maybe your kids love juice, candy and pizza. Begin by watering down the juice, then removing it completely. Once the kids get used to not drinking juice, start toning back the candy, then move to the pizza. Small victories add up quickly, and make the process easier for everyone.