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Healthy Food Choices for Kids (and Their Parents!)

Teaching children about making healthy food choices can be difficult, but it’s one of the most important steps you can take to ensure the health and well being of your child. If you haven’t learned about making healthy choices yourself, it’s even more difficult to steer your little ones in the right direction. Unhealthy eating, combined with a sedentary lifestyle and lots of screen time, can add up to extra pounds, little energy, and lower immunity. Here are a few ideas for making healthy eating changes at home for both you and your kids.

Keep healthy food on hand

The most obvious first step is to not keep a lot of junk food around the house. Children will eat what’s readily available. So will Mom and Dad when they’re hungry. Keep fruit in a bowl on the counter, not buried in the fridge, and a basket of healthy snacks in the pantry so you can grab and go.

Don’t label foods as “good” or “bad”

Instead, tie foods to the things your child cares about, such as sports or appearance. Take the time to teach your child which foods are nutritious and which ones should be limited. Tell him things he can relate to and that will grab his attention. For example, “Drinking milk is good for your bones. Superman must have strong bones to be able to fly that fast!” He will probably care more about that than the actual health benefits.

Don’t nag about unhealthy choices

Instead of nagging, try to redirect the choices. You might try roasting potato sticks in the oven (tossed in just a bit of olive oil) instead of buying french fries. Or, if your child wants candy, you might make fresh strawberries dipped in a little chocolate sauce.

Don’t use food as a reward

Instead, reward your children with something physical and fun, like a trip to the park or a quick game of catch.

Sit down to family dinners

Research shows that children who eat dinners at the table with their parents have better nutrition and are less likely to get in serious trouble as teenagers. Knowing dinner is served at approximately the same time every night and that the entire family will be sitting down together is comforting, enhances appetite and provides a perfect opportunity for your children to share what’s on their minds. Breakfast is another great time for a family meal, especially since kids who eat breakfast tend to do better in school.

Prepare plates in the kitchen

Instead of serving meals family-style at the table, prep plates in the kitchen and leave the serving bowls there. You can put healthy portions of each item on everyone’s dinner plate, and your children will learn to recognize correct portion sizes. It also takes an extra step to walk to the kitchen for seconds, so you won’t get in the habit of mindlessly spooning up extra helpings at the table.

Be a role model

The most important thing you can do to help get your child to choose healthy foods is to eat them yourself. Kids are more likely to do what you do than what you say. If you are snacking on a bag of potato chips, don’t expect them to be munching on an apple.

Cook more meals at home

Eating home cooked meals is healthier for the whole family and sets a great example for kids about the importance of food. Restaurant meals tend to have more fat, sugar, and salt. Save dining out for special occasions. Make visiting fast food restaurants an occasional thing, not a habit.

Get kids involved

Children enjoy helping to grocery shop, selecting what goes in their lunch box and preparing dinner. It’s also a chance for you to teach them about the nutritional values of different foods, and (for older children) how to read food labels. Taking kids to the farmer’s market or helping them plant their own veggie garden in the yard also goes a long way in encouraging them to eat their veggies.

What are your best tips for encouraging healthy eating in your home? Got any tips for healthy eating on the go? Please share them in the comments below.

“We’ve got to quit fighting for the parking space right in front of the door, quit taking the elevator or escalator and walk up the stairs. Let’s get back to the basics — family meals, healthy breakfasts — simple stuff like that.” ~ Dr. Carolyn Ashworth, pediatrician

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