Due to the popularity of my article, 10 Ways to Kids Who Eat Healthier Than You, I present to you 10 more tips you can implement whether your kids are just starting out on solid foods or are already driving you mad with their fussy eating habits. Of course, all kids are individuals and thus have different tastes and personalities when it comes to food and mealtimes. However, as with all aspects of child-rearing, we parents and carers are the main influence on what kind of habits and tastes a child develops as they grow. So here are 10 more ways to a healthy, food-loving family.
11. Assume Kids Will Like Everything
When was it decided that kids only liked bland non-gourmet food? Why are people surprised when they see a baby eating oysters, liver, or octopus? An adult may have decided that a food tastes gross or isn’t a popular food, but babies don’t know that. Babies and children have zero preconceived notions about which foods are gross or yummy, so actually they are likely to enjoy more types of foods than adults who already have ingrained habits. A child’s palate is like a blank canvas open to new experiences in order draw his own picture of the culinary world. Offer your child a variety of savoury, ethnic, nutritious flavour-filled foods and let them learn what they like.
12. Don’t Be a Stickler for Manners
If you want your child to love food, then mealtimes need to be enjoyable. It is hard for a child to explore and enjoy his food when he is constantly being scolded for messiness, loudness, and fidgeting. Kids are by nature messy, loud and fidgety, so if they can’t be themselves at mealtimes, they won’t be able to relax and eat. Of course, when eating in public, a child can be lovingly reminded to use an indoor voice or a napkin, but there is plenty of time in later childhood to develop whatever manners a family desires. For now, just let your toddler enjoy his food.
13. Don’t Guilt or Pressure Kids
Never guilt or pressure a child into eating, as this only creates a negative association with food and mealtimes that will gradually make healthy eating habits impossible. There are probably some foods that you don’t like to eat, so realise that your child is the same and will enjoy food more when he can make his own taste distinctions. A better mealtime rule to model is to always try a bite first, then they can decide if they like it or not. In addition, forcing a child to eat more than they want or to always “clean their plate” disregards the child’s own fullness signals and can lead to overeating issues as they won’t know when to stop anymore. Simply give the child plenty of time to eat, and when it’s clear they are finished, end the mealtime.
14. Minimise Distractions
Even the best eaters can forget all about their food if there is something more interesting going on. Kids are easily distracted, so turn off the TV, take toys off the table, and save serious adult discussions for later. Provide an example by putting away your newspaper and mobile phone while at the table. If your child continually asks to play with trucks during a meal, be consistent in saying something like, “Sounds fun, we’ll play with trucks after breakfast.”
15. Go Sugar-Free the First Couple of Years
As I said before, your baby’s palate is a blank canvas with no ideas about how things will taste and what they will like. So don’t assume that he will want a cupcake or chocolate shake just because YOU think it’s delicious. As soon as he has sampled the sweet, addictiveness of sugar, of course he will want more. But until that first taste, your baby has an advantage in that he doesn’t feel like he is missing out on sugary foods because he doesn’t know what they taste like yet. So leave him with that advantage for the first couple of years, so he can explore more nutritious, satiating and energy-giving foods without the distraction of sugar.
16. Don’t Glorify and Villainize Foods
Of course, if you act like sugary sweets are an exciting indulgent treat, they will gain your child’s attention and desire. Likewise, if we make eating vegetables seem like a chore, your child will adopt that mentality. Once again, remember that your behaviour and attitudes toward food are the main example for your child’s developing beliefs and eating habits, so don’t glorify or villainize foods haphazardly. For nutritious foods, model excitement and enjoyment instead of disdain. With sweets, both attitudes may create desire, as kids want not only what you want, but also what they can’t have. So instead of making sweets the ultimate treat or a naughty indulgence, treat them simply as foods that “we only eat occasionally”.
17. Limit Grains and Starch for Kids
Sweets are not the only things that will distract your child with sugary, addictiveness. The carbohydrates, or sugars, in grains, starchy foods and even fruit are also very addictive and are easy to fill up on. You may notice that your child will devour their bread, rice, potatoes or pasta and even ask for more, then be too full to eat their meat and vegetables. (Adults do this too!). Make meat and vegetables the main components of your child’s plate at main mealtimes, and they will learn to like a variety of healthy foods while getting a full range of essential nutrients.
18. Just Say No to Drinks, Except Water
A good diet includes plenty of water, so don’t forget to include water at every meal, and take a water bottle or sippy cup for your child everywhere you go. Other drinks, however, do not provide nutrition but instead can cause bad habits and health problems for your child. Juice and sodas are little more than pure sugar, and most types of milk cause a variety of health issues. There are a few nutritious drink exceptions, such as freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices, raw milk and herbal teas, but in general, if you only serve your child water from the very beginning, that is all they will come to expect and enjoy.
19. Stock Up on Whole Food Snacks
Not only can kids eat a huge amount of food relative to their body size, they metabolize their food quickly and thus are hungry often. Snacks between meals are essential, and should be as nutritious as main meals, not food from a packet. Choose whole fruits and raw veggies over processed fruit snacks or boxed dried fruits; choose nuts, seeds, plain yoghurt and raw cheese over crackers, rice cakes and processed dairy. Then carry your snacks with you everywhere you so you’ll always have healthy food on hand for your hungry youngster.
20. Re-read these 20 tips regularly
Often, we start out strong with new habits, only to forget about them quickly and go back to our old ways. It takes time to cement life-long health habits so it helps to continually remind yourself of your goals and how to get there. If your goal is to have kids who eat healthier than (or as healthy as) you, post these tips on your bulletin board or bookmark the pages in your favourites. If you’ve read this far, congratulations on taking the time to work towards a healthier family!
10 MORE Ways to Kids Who Eat Healthier Than You – December 2012
More on feeding kids well:
Primal Kids – Real Food for Growing Bodies
Primal Baby – Baby Led Weaning – No More Mashed Up Food