Studies have shown that instilling healthy eating habits during childhood drastically reduces the likelihood of adult onset obesity. This in turn helps to prevent other serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and gastrointestinal issues. While the occasional splurge will not hurt you, it is important to ensure that your weekly meal plan includes a variety of healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, and high protein entrees and snacks.
Healthy Eating Lesson #1: Everything in moderation.
We all know that it is important to instill good eating habits in your children and ensure that they are eating well balanced meals, but this does not mean that you should avoid giving your children unhealthy foods at all cost. Striking a good balance between healthy meals and the occasional treat will be a sustainable long term strategy. Creating sustainable eating habits will increase the likelihood that you and your children will stick with these healthy meal plans and not fall off the bandwagon when life gets busy.
Another factor to consider is that children that grow up in families that never eat sweets or other junk food are likely to binge on unhealthy snacks once they become older and more self reliant. Everyone hears stories about a college freshman that binge drinks and does not pass their first semester of classes. These are frequently the most sheltered kids, those that are prone to go overboard once they get their first taste of freedom. The same thing can happen with junk food. A moderate take on junk food during childhood can lead to a moderate take on junk food during adulthood. Long term, this is vastly preferable to a strict diet during childhood and an indulgent diet during adulthood.
Healthy Eating Lesson #2: Avoid labeling food categories.
While it might seem easy to label food as “bad” or “unhealthy,” it is best to avoid using these words as labels when speaking to young children. They will not be able to understand why a food is good or bad, they will simply know that it tastes good and they enjoy it, even though it is “bad.” This might make them feel guilty for craving one of these foods. This guilt can lead to serious issues surrounding food in the future. Avoid negatively impacting your children’s future eating habits by remaining neutral when talking about the positive and negative aspects of commonly consumed foods.
Healthy Eating Lesson #3: Avoid overly specific lessons.
While you need to make sure that your kids understand that they should not eat 5 cookies or only eat chips for lunch, the moment when these things happen is not the opportune moment for a lesson. Telling your child that they have made a bad choice can lead to the aforementioned guilt. Instead, try to give general lessons that are not tied to a specific instance. For example, you should talk about only eating 1 or 2 cookies at a time on a day that your child has not eaten any cookies.
Healthy Eating Lesson #4: Do not “forbid” your children to eat anything.
You definitely do not need to buy junk food every time you go to the store, but you should still avoid labeling a food as something that your children can never have. Instead of saying that “we do not buy that” or “we do not eat that,” try telling your children that it is not on the list but perhaps you can include it on a future shopping trip.
On a similar note, you should not forbid your children from eating certain foods when they go over to a friend’s house. This will most likely result in them sneaking around behind your back and eating the foods anyway. This means that not only will your plan backfire, you will essentially be pitting yourself and your child against each other. Instead, you should work together with your children to plan healthy meals and choose snacks that are appropriate when you are at home or out shopping.
Healthy Eating Lesson #5: Make your goal education, not instruction.
While it can be easy to just say that a food is good or bad and be done with it, it is important that your children understand why the food is beneficial. For young children, this can begin with just talking about different foods. This can be done by comparing new foods with foods that they have previously consumed. You can also talk about how vegetables are high in nutrients that will give them energy to play. Another great thing to discuss is how a high protein food can help muscles grow big and strong.
Making sure your kids understand why a food is beneficial is the first step to developing healthy eating habits. To learn more about planning healthy meals for your whole family, check out the other information on our website.