As a parent, it can be challenging to deal with your child’s unhealthy eating habits. You want your child to grow up healthy and strong, but you also don’t want to shame them or create a negative relationship with food. First, it is important to know why we should promote healthy eating habits. Then we can consider the strategies on how to address your child or teen’s unhealthy eating habits without shaming them.
The importance of healthy eating habits
Healthy eating habits are crucial for children’s overall health and well-being. A balanced and nutritious diet provides the necessary nutrients for growth, development, and optimal functioning of the body and brain. In contrast, poor nutrition can lead to various health problems, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic conditions.
The impact of childhood nutrition on long-term health cannot be overstated. We know that children who consume a healthy and balanced diet are more likely to maintain a healthy weight, have a better cognitive function, and have lower risk factors for chronic diseases in adulthood.
Additionally, healthy eating habits in childhood can establish a foundation for lifelong healthy eating habits. When children learn to appreciate and enjoy healthy foods, they are more likely to make healthier food choices as they grow older. On the other hand, poor eating habits in childhood can lead to a lifetime of unhealthy food choices and negative health outcomes.
Furthermore, a healthy diet can positively impact children’s mental health and well-being. A well-balanced diet that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats can provide the necessary nutrients to support brain function and emotional well-being. On the other hand, poor nutrition can contribute to anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders.
Set a good example
Children often imitate their parent’s behaviour, so make sure you are setting a good example when it comes to eating healthy. Choose nutritious foods and snacks, and avoid eating junk food in front of your child. This will help your child see that healthy eating is important and can be enjoyable.
Avoid negative comments related to unhealthy eating
It’s important to avoid negative comments about your child’s eating habits. Don’t label foods as “good” or “bad,” and don’t criticize your child for their food choices. This can create a negative relationship with food and lead to feelings of shame or guilt.
Focus on positive reinforcement for healthy eating
Instead of criticizing your child for unhealthy eating, focus on positive reinforcement. Praise your child when they try a new food or make a healthy food choice. This will help reinforce positive behaviour and create a positive relationship with food.
Create a healthy food environment
Creating a healthy food environment at home is essential for promoting healthy eating habits in children, teens, and adults alike. Here are a few specific examples of what parents can do to create a healthy food environment:
Plan and prepare meals ahead of time. Planning and preparing meals in advance can help ensure that healthy and balanced meals are available for everyone. Parents can plan meals that include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. They can also involve their children in meal planning and preparation, making it a fun and interactive experience.
Make healthy foods easily accessible. Parents can make healthy foods more accessible by keeping them in plain sight and easy to reach. For example, placing a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter or storing cut-up vegetables in the front of the fridge can encourage children to choose healthier snack options.
Serve healthy snacks. Offering healthy snacks between meals can help children stay satisfied and prevent them from becoming overly hungry, which can lead to poor food choices.
Avoid keeping unhealthy foods at home. Parents can limit their children’s access to unhealthy foods by avoiding keeping them at home. Instead, they can provide healthier alternatives, such as fresh fruits, nuts, or whole-grain crackers. Doing this instead of lecturing children to make healthier choices will help minimize shame.
Limit junk food and sugary drinks. While it’s important to offer a variety of foods, it’s also important to limit junk food and sugary drinks. Keep these foods out of the house as much as possible and offer them occasionally. Instead, provide healthy snacks like fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain crackers.
Involve children in grocery shopping. Bringing children to the grocery store and involving them in grocery shopping can help them learn about healthy food choices and develop an appreciation for healthy foods. Parents can teach their children about the different food groups and how to make healthy choices when selecting foods.
Model healthy eating habits. Children learn best by watching their parents. Parents can capitalize on this by modelling healthy eating habits by eating healthy foods themselves and demonstrating the importance of moderation when it comes to unhealthy foods. They can also encourage their children to try new healthy foods and provide positive reinforcement when they make healthy choices.
By creating a healthy food environment at home, parents can help their children develop healthy eating habits and establish a foundation for lifelong health and well-being.
Encourage children to try new foods and develop a love for healthy foods
Encouraging children to try new foods and develop a love for healthy foods can be a challenge, but it is an important part of promoting healthy eating habits. Here are some ways parents can encourage their children to try new foods and develop a love for healthy foods:
Be a role model. Again, children learn best by watching their parents. Children are more likely to try new foods if they see their parents and caregivers eating and enjoying them. Parents can model healthy eating habits by trying new foods themselves and demonstrating enthusiasm and positivity about healthy foods.
Offer a variety of healthy foods. Providing a variety of healthy foods can help children develop a taste for healthy foods, along with different flavors and textures. Parents can introduce new foods gradually, starting with small amounts and pairing them with familiar foods.
Involve children in meal preparation. Kids are more likely to eat something if they’ve had a hand in choosing or preparing it. And, involving them can help them develop an interest in healthy eating and boost their willingness to try new foods. Ask for their input on meal planning and let them choose healthy foods. Let them also help with cooking and preparing meals. This can also be a great opportunity to teach your child about nutrition and healthy eating habits.
Don’t force it. Forcing your child to eat something they don’t want to can make mealtime a stressful and unpleasant experience. Avoid this power struggle. Even if they would have loved it, their counterwill will kick in. Similarly, avoid making mealtime a source of stress. Instead, offer a variety of healthy foods and let your child choose what they want to eat while encouraging them to try new foods in a positive and supportive way, without putting pressure on them.
Remember, children may need to be exposed to a new food 20-30 times before they grow to like it, so be patient and keep offering healthy options. If they are hesitant to try something, offer it again in a different way, such as cooked or raw, or with a dip.
Make healthy foods appealing and enjoyable
Healthy eating doesn’t have to be boring. We are only limited by our own creativity! While it might be hard to come up with ideas at first, there are lots of ways we can make healthy foods more enticing.
Add flavor. Adding flavor to healthy foods can make them more appealing to children. Parents can add spices or herbs to vegetables, use different seasonings on lean proteins, or add a small amount of honey or maple syrup to fruits.
Use creative presentation. Making healthy foods visually appealing can make them more appealing to children. Use creative presentation techniques, such as cutting fruits and vegetables into fun shapes or arranging them in a colourful salad. Even using colourful plates and bowls can make a difference.
Make healthy foods fun. Parents can make healthy foods more fun by incorporating them into games or activities. For example, they can have a “taste test” game where children try different healthy foods and rate them based on taste.
Offer variety. Providing a variety of healthy foods can make mealtime more interesting and enjoyable for children. Parents can introduce new foods gradually and offer a variety of different fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Try making smoothies together using a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Offer choices. Allowing children to choose their own healthy foods can make them more willing to eat them. Parents can offer a choice between two healthy options, such as a selection of fruits or vegetables, or allow their children to choose their own toppings for a healthy meal.
Grow your own fruits and vegetables. Doing anything together can promote healthy eating. It can be fun (and relaxing!) to garden together and grow your own fruits and vegetables.
Seek professional help
If your child’s unhealthy eating habits persist or if you are concerned about their health, it’s okay to reach out for support and receive guidance on how to address your child’s eating habits in a positive and healthy way. You may also want to visit your child’s doctor to rule out any underlying medical issues and provide guidance on how to address your child’s eating habits.
Overall, promoting healthy eating habits in children and teens is essential for their overall health and well-being. Remember, it’s important to approach your child’s unhealthy eating habits with patience, positivity, and without shame. It can take time to change eating habits, so don’t get discouraged if your child doesn’t immediately take to new foods.
By providing nutritious and balanced meals, encouraging healthy food choices, and modelling healthy eating habits, parents and caregivers can help set children up for a lifetime of good health and well-being.
Want to hear more? Listen to Andrew and Caroline discuss how to address your child’s unhealthy eating on their podcast, Parents of the Year.