Are you willing to stop worrying about what your child is eating? For most of you, the answer will be no. I’m somewhat willing to stop. If you could make sure that the ONLY choices children have are healthy choices, would you still care? Maybe you would, but I’m certain you would care a bit less.
Perhaps care is not the best word, but aren’t most parents worried about what kids are eating because they tend to like and eat a lot of the foods they shouldn’t be eating a lot of (sweets, chips, etc.), and they don’t eat enough of the foods they should be eating more of (e.g., fruits and veggies). So, if we were to transform our homes so that children only had access to the foods we want them to eat more of, hen maybe we would know that what they’re eating is good, and not worth worrying about. Here are a few tips for a worry-free food environment, based on research and personal experience.
- Myth: “All natural” doesn’t always mean healthy. In fact, sugar and fat are natural, and food companies use this “all natural” as a marketing tool to get you to buy the wolf (unhealthy food) in sheep’s clothing (all natural food).
- Kids want what you’ve got, especially if you’re enjoying it. Many adults complain that one of the things that makes it hard for them to eat healthy is the amount of time it takes to prepare fruits and vegetables. I love mangoes, but hate peeling them…buying them already cut up is so expensive too. However, I find that when I choose to peel a kiwi or mango at the dinner table, my 3-year-old gets interested. I sometimes go out of my way to NOT offer him any (which seems counterproductive), but in most cases, he’ll reach out for some, or ask for some.
- Be a healthy role model. We can’t expect our kids to eat what we’re not willing to eat. If daddy doesn’t like anything green and refuses to add it to his dinner plate, it’s pretty likely that children will refuse to eat that food, and may develop a pattern of refusing to eat certain foods. Even old dogs like daddy can learn new tricks, and it’s important that children see you eating AND ENJOYING the foods you want them to eat too.
- Don’t force your child to eat healthy foods. Coercion may produce the opposite effect…they may learn to hate those foods! Several studies conducted by Leann Birch and colleagues show that children’s liking of a food tends to decrease after they are continually pressured to eat it. Does this bring back any horrible childhood memories?
- Stop caring about the little things: I would love it if my son had excellent table manners, but these days we’ve decided that getting him to eat (period) is more important that getting him to eat with the right utensils, or with his feet off the table. Now, it’s still a chore to get him to eat more than a few bites at any one meal, but once we stopped caring about the little things, mealtimes were less stressful.
- Serve fruits and veggies before your meal. If your child is a good eater, but doesn’t care for fruits and veggies much, why not serve them when they’re most hungry, and don’t have other options? A study conducted by Penn State researchers showed that servings preschoolers carrots approximately 10 minutes before lunch was an effective way of increasing vegetable intake. Children in the study who were served carrots at the same time that other lunch foods were offered ate fewer carrots than the kids who got carrots before the meal. The study showed that serving vegetables before the meal did not affect the amount of other lunch foods children ate.
- Keep IN reach of children. There are so many things that we certainly have to keep out of reach of children…healthy snacks aren’t one of them. Here are some examples of healthy snacks that could be kept in places where children can easily access them:
- Freeze-dried fruits and vegetables. My son loves these 2 specific brands of fruits and veggies: Brother’s Freeze Dried Fruit Crisps and Just Tomatoes Etc!
- Raisins, although you should be mindful of the choking hazard for infants and young toddlers
- Healthy, all-natural granola bars
- Baby Carrots
- Sliced fruit (apples, watermelon, pears) in easy-to-open containers in the refrigerator
- Grapes, although this is also a choking hazard for little ones
There are probably many more that you can add to the list. Choose healthy options, make them easy to access and maybe you can STOP caring more about what your kid eats at home.