Many parents have a hard time making their kids eat "healthy" foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Apples and pears? No way! Brussels sprouts and spinach? Forget it! Broccoli? That will be the day!
You may know the scenario: It's war! Little jaws lock, small mouths refuse to open. You try every trick in the book and still don't get any cooperation. Neither your parental authority, nor bribery, nor bargaining make a difference. Eventually you give up, accept defeat and go along with whatever your little darlings demand.
Needless to say, everybody loses when parents forgo their responsibilities -- especially when it comes to healthy eating habits. It doesn't have to be like this.
Kids learn mostly by example. They model their own behavior after their parents and their older siblings. If your kids have bad eating habits, ask yourself how that happened in the first place. If you eat a poor diet yourself, neglect your health and physical fitness or smoke and drink in front of them, you shouldn't be surprised when your children go down the same road. So be a good role model and set the stage for healthy eating at home and when you eat out as a family. Your actions speak louder than your words.
Do not expect your kids to know for themselves what is good for them. They don't have "natural" instincts to do what's right. They need your guidance and, if necessary, your willingness to draw the line. Don't be an enabler. If your kids nag you to buy them snacks or candy and you give in despite of better knowledge, you can only blame yourself for the consequences.
It's never too early to start teaching healthy eating habits. Take your children with you to the grocery store or, even better, to your local farmers market. Explain to them the benefits of the foods you're buying. If possible, you may also want to visit a working farm where they can see first hand how produce is grown and harvested. Among other things, it will help them appreciate more the value of food.
Kids are more inclined to try foods they can help prepare. Sharp knives and hot boiler plates notwithstanding, there is plenty to do around the kitchen for kids of all ages. Encourage them to lend a helping hand once in a while. Who knows, you may lay the foundation for your child's career as a culinary rock star or at least a skilled hobby chef.
Eating together as a family is always recommended. Sit down for dinner and don't allow your kids to munch mindlessly while their attention is focused on other things, such as watching TV, playing video games or doing homework. Mealtimes are great opportunities to learn social skills, table manners as well as healthy eating habits.
Offer your kids portion sizes that are appropriate for their age. Let them know that they can have seconds if they are still hungry, but encourage them to eat slowly. It takes the stomach about twenty minutes to send a signal to the brain that it is full.
Keep in mind that children don't have the palate of adults. For instance, many kids don't like spicy foods, certain textures or even colors. You should never push or force them to clean their plates. Don't bargain with them or bribe them either. Dessert should be treated as what it is, a part of a meal, not a reward for good behavior. Generally speaking, it is never a good idea to use any kind of food as a bargaining chip.
Again, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that you as the adult do as you preach. All your good advice will be lost if your kids don't see you live by the same standards you try to hold them up to.
Follow Timi Gustafson, R.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TimiGustafsonRD