With most kids, if you offer them the opportunity to choose between an apple or a bag of candy, they’ll probably go for the candy. They seem hardwired to go for the less healthy option, however much bribery is usually involved. But as parents, our job in nurturing them is to encourage them to make healthy choices and grow into fit, educated, and wise adults. Trying to get them to choose the healthy option can seem impossible, but with a little bit of time and perhaps a small amount of bribery, you’ll be well on the right track.
Teaching kids about healthy choices needs to start early. After all, we want them to grow up able to make the right decisions about what constitutes a healthy diet, but also to understand the consequences of poor decisions. Mealtimes are a great time to kick off a discussion about food and healthy choices. It’s also a great idea to get them involved in meal preparation, within reason. Cooking is a great way to engage them with the process, and they’re far more likely to want to sample the results too.
Make food fun
Food doesn’t have to be boring, and fun food is perfect for encouraging picky eaters to engage. This is something the Japanese are amazing at – bento boxes, a common lunch for youngsters, include lots of healthy food such as rice, fish, and veggies, formed into cute animals and faces. It doesn’t have to be so time-consuming, though – a smiley face made out of sandwiches, with grapes for eyes and apple slices for ears will get even the pickiest eater engaged.
Grow your own
Another amazing way to encourage children to interact with their food is like a science lesson, and a cookery class rolled into one. Why not create a small vegetable garden where kids can plant their own seeds, nurture the seedlings, and then eat the rewards. Their engagement with the food is guaranteed to get them excited, and they’ll love eating the fruits of their hard work.
Reward good habits
It takes a lot of work to build up good eating habits for children, especially for the pickier eaters. Make sure newly formed good food habits don’t go unrewarded. Rather than rewarding a healthy food choice with unhealthy foods, use sticker charts that culminate in a new toy or a trip to the zoo. Using unhealthy foods such as cookies or candy as a reward can teach children that those types of foods are something to aspire to, which can reinforce unhealthy ideas about treats. Try to stick to non-food based rewards as a general rule.
Encouraging kids to eat healthily can seem like a real challenge. Helping them to engage with their food and take ownership over its preparation and even its creation can really engage them with the process and create healthy habits that they can take into adolescence and beyond. If you’ve got any other ways that you like to encourage your kids to eat healthily, I’d love to hear them.