Establishing Healthy Eating Habits
Eating healthy is more than just watching calorie intake. It is important to eat healthy foods for many reasons. A healthy diet can improve our energy level and our sleep habits, help our immune system, increase our mental capacity, and reduce our risk of many diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and various cancers. Getting our children to eat healthy foods can be difficult, but it is a battle worth fighting… the health consequences of an unhealthy diet can last a lifetime!
Be a Role Model!
The first step to getting your kids to eat healthy foods is to eat them yourself. Children tend to mimic the eating habits of their parents, especially their mother. If their parents don’t eat vegetables, most children won’t eat them either. However, if children repeatedly see the people around them eating vegetables and are consistently offered those same vegetables, chances are they will eventually learn to like them.
Some of the best eaters are one year-olds. Some of the worst eaters are two year-olds. But be persistent! Dieticians estimate it takes at least ten exposures to a new food before a toddler is willing to incorporate it into their diet. Establishing healthy eating habits at this early age improves the chances your children will make healthier choices later in life.
Always try to incorporate new foods into your children’s diet. They may resist at first… but again, it may take ten or more exposures! The greater the variety of foods, the wider the variety of vitamins and nutrients your child will ingest.
Nutrient content is often related to color, particularly with fruits and vegetables. Dark green vegetables like broccoli and spinach will have similar nutrient content, which differs dramatically from the nutrient content of an orange carrot. With few exceptions, the more vivid the color of a food, the greater the nutrient content it has. Dark green leaf lettuce is much more nutritious than the practically white head lettuce. Brilliantly colored red beets are nutrient-rich, while the bland color of potatoes tells you they are nutrient-poor.
When food shopping, try and spend more time in the produce section and less time in the processed food aisles. For most grocery stores, walk the perimeter of the store first, and then walk the aisles. Shop alone and after eating, to avoid impulse-buying. If children want or need to be present during food-shopping, use this time to discuss healthy eating choices.
No Clean Plate Club!
Let children decide when they have had enough to eat. Humans are born with an innate sense of satiety (knowing when we have had enough to eat). We should eat to the point of being satisfied, not to the point of being “full.” But don’t let children refuse to eat dinner and reward them with an unhealthy snack later. Mealtime should not be a battlefield. Never use food as a reward or punishment.
Instead of fast food, make good food, fast!
Limit fast food intake to less than one meal per week. Some healthy alternatives for the active lifestyle:
- Crock pot meals, prepared in the morning, will be ready at your convenience in the evening.
- Always have fresh, cleaned fruit or vegetables available for quick snacking. Use a fruit or vegetable dip if necessary.
- Have salad available in a bag. Kids can add vegetables, fruit, lean cold cuts, cheese, or yesterday’s leftover meat… to make the salad a meal!
- Prepare extra food on nights when time is available for cooking. Place extra servings in individual freezer containers… available for immediate use on busy soccer nights!
- Involve Your Children !
- If shopping with children, ask them to pick your produce and place it in the cart. At home, ask them to help clean the produce, or assist in its preparation. The more they touch the vegetables, the less likely they are to disapprove of them. If possible, planting a small vegetable garden with the help of your children may encourage healthy eating habits!
Think outside the box… Add other cooked root vegetables to your mashed potatoes to improve nutrient content. For example, cooked turnips will add a sweet, peppery flavor as well as additional Vitamin C; cooked beets, will make your mashed potatoes pink in color while adding a healthy dose of folate. Pears or apples will also sweeten mashed potatoes, while adding vitamins.
Have Fun !
Healthy eating is a lifestyle change that should also include exercise… so get outside and enjoy free time outdoors! Exercise allows our bodies to efficiently use the nutrients we ingest. For example, weight-bearing exercise helps our bodies use Vitamin D to strengthen our bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis later in life…. So stay active!