Child nutrition is tricky, especially when getting your child to eat healthy is always an uphill battle. So, here are some easy tips and tricks you can use to encourage your child to eat healthier, without fighting them on it!
1. Set a good example.
Young people are most influenced by what they see and experience, not by what they are told. Leading by example is the best way to shape children’s behaviour and their diets. Remember, the habits children form when they are young often stay with them for life!
2. Feed your child(ren) a balanced diet.
Natural tastes for food develop early on. Babies are born with a palette inclined to sweet foods, so it is of upmost importance to broaden children’s palettes and encourage savory foods from a young age. If a child becomes accustomed to the flavors that nature provides and has few experiences with the sensory overload that is refined/processed food, the child will be less likely to crave these foods later in life (and reduce the risk of health problems related to said foods).
3. Ensure plenty of fluids, especially good quality drinking water.
Children should be encouraged to drink water before any other liquids, especially sugary drinks. Try your best to avoid juices, even those that say ‘no added sugar’ or ‘reduced sugar’, these are still PACKED with sugar (check the nutrition facts) and have relatively no other beneficial nutrients. Products like these can cause mood swings, among other problems. If your child(ren) absolutely must have juice, try diluting it with water to reduce the impact of sugar.
4. Do not bribe your child with sugar.
It is all to easy to give children sweet treats whenever they need attention or a distraction. However, this conditions the reward/pleasure systems of the brain to demand sugar in response to stressors, and this remains engrained in their brains as a reward for the rest of their lives. This conditioning is extremely hard to reverse and can lead to many problems later in life such as emotional or stress eating, overeating, undereating, etc. Instead, encourage children with healthy snacks, with small toys, or with experiences.
5. Have healthy snacks available around the house.
Often the problem with healthy snacks is that they take a little more time to prepare. By having healthy snacks pre-made and ready to go, the convenience is the same come snack time. These snacks can then be readily available for whenever they need, like when they get home from school.
6. Involve your child(ren) in shopping and preparing foods.
Shopping with young children can be daunting. However, teaching them good shopping habits from a young age will be extremely beneficial in teaching them not only how to shop, but how to make good choices when surrounded with temptation. Teaching children how to prepare the foods they like will also teach them the skills they need to prepare healthy options later in life and can also allow them to be creative with food.
7. Plant a garden.
Planting a garden with your child(ren) can be more than just a bonding experience. It can teach them the value of good, clean, quality produce and allow them to experience eating right off the vine. It can be magical for children to watch and cultivate something that they planted. The produce you plant can then turn into a meal that they helped make from beginning to end! If you don’t have a garden, suggest a community garden at their school or in your town, or join with friends/neighbours to plant a garden for everyone to enjoy.
8. Organize your refrigerator/pantry in a way that allows your young ones to get what you want them to have.
Making healthy foods readily available for children will encourage them to choose those foods over anything else. If there are treats in the house, keep these out of reach/out of sight, and allow them only on occasion. Even if they share their lunches and end up having a little more junk food at school, teaching them to eat healthy at home will make a world of a difference!
9. Help your children to limit or avoid their intake of unhealthy additives.
The basic additives to watch out for are artificial colors and flavours, excess sugar, MSG, aspartame, sodium nitrite (often in cured/lunch meats), salt, excess sulfites in dried fruits and preserved foods, and hydrogenated (trans) fats. The best way to avoid additives it to eat a diet consisting of whole foods (fruits, vegetables, whole (unprocessed) grains, high quality protein) and to avoid anything in the middle aisles of the grocery store (stuff that has a long shelf life, processed foods, pre-packaged foods, instant meals, treats, etc.).
10. Watch out for food allergies and delayed sensitivity reactions, which are very common in children.
When you limit or avoid foods that cause reactions in your child(ren) you will notice immediate differences in behaviour and health. Sensitivity reactions can occur even 3 days after consuming a product and can cause fatigue, brain fog, mood swings, digestive problems, hyperactivity symptoms, frequent illness, the list goes on. One example is chronic ear fluid in children, which is often treated as chronic ear infections with strong antibiotics. Ear fluid can be an indicator of a dairy sensitivity, and often removing all dairy from the diet will reduce the fluid in the ear. Common sensitivities include dairy and gluten, as well as some preservatives and artificial colors. Food sensitivities have a vast and expansive range and can cause reactions to anything, like pineapple, garbanzo beans, beef, or to garlic. Be sure to look for reactions they may be having and do your best to eliminate the foods causing reactions.