As a parent, your concern about your child’s eating habits and patterns is inevitable and justified. From the moment you start weaning your little one, the challenge of what to feed and what not to feed begins.
Most children are picky or reluctant when it comes to food items, especially if they are trying them for the first time. One pressing question that every parent thus has in their mind is: How to ensure their child consumes healthy foods and avoids unhealthy ones? Let’s explore how you can make the right food choices for your child and raise healthy eaters.
Is it Even Possible to Raise Healthy Eaters?
Considering the tons of unhealthy food readily available in the market, one might wonder if it is even possible to make sure you raise your children to become healthy eaters. Sure, junk and packaged food items are convenient and easy to use, but they can be seriously detrimental to the well-being of your child. Lethargy, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease are some of the few long-term problems that can be caused due to unhealthy eating.
In fact, according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, more than 90% of children eat one form of junk food or the other on any given day. Raising healthy eaters thus requires a constant effort on your part as a parent, where you have to make conscious choices when it comes to feeding your child.
Benefits of Healthy Eating in Children
Most of us are already aware of the immense benefits of healthy eating for both children as well as adults, even if we do not follow it. Some of the key advantages of healthy eating, especially for children, are:
- Enhanced energy levels
- Better digestion and gut health
- Healthier eyes, skin, and hair
- Increased muscle and bone strength
- Improvement in heart and brain function
- Overall well-being with better immunity
- Better mood and mental health
- Higher academic and physical performance
How to Ensure Your Child Eats Healthy
Let’s dive right into the central part; that is how you can ensure that your child eats healthy food with minimum consumption of unhealthy items.
The four major things that you should keep in mind as a parent are:
- Offer lots of fruit and vegetable options
Around one-third of the daily consumption should consist of fresh fruits and vegetables. Ideally, a child should have five portions that are made up of fruits and vegetables. They are a great source of the necessary vitamins and minerals that are required to ensure your child grows up healthier and stronger. Some of the healthiest options are:
- The right balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats
It is important that you provide your child with the right amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fats according to their age. Children require these food groups for their daily energy and healthy body functions. These are the diet requirements for a child: apples, berries, bananas, oranges, avocados, peas, baby carrots, and yam.
Good options: fish, eggs, poultry, meat, beans, milk, yogurt
Good options: sweet potatoes, whole grain bread, oats, brown rice, corn
Up to 35%
Good options: nuts, seeds, peanut butter, olive oil, fatty fish
- Keep the packaged food to the minimum
Packaged and junk food is full of preservatives that may cause short-term issues like indigestion or long-term ones such as high cholesterol. They have an excess of chemicals as well as sugar and salt. Frequent consumption of these processed items is one of the top reasons for child obesity in today’s world.
- Give sweets and treats in moderation only
You might be tempted to give your little one a treat, either as praise or to relax them during a stressful crying episode. But it would be best if you made sure that you only offer sugary treats or sweets occasionally and in moderation. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends giving less than six teaspoons (or 25 grams) of sugar daily to children between the ages of 2 to 18 years and no sugar for children under two years.
Raising Healthy Eaters: Toddlers
I’m sure you want to know how to ensure your child eats at all, especially if you have a toddler! Weaning toddlers is not an easy task. They might be finicky a lot and refuse to eat, so healthy eating might come later when you have a little muncher. However, the earlier you start the process of introducing healthy food items to your child, the better chance you have of making the habit permanent.
Here are a few tips to help your fussy little ones eat, and eat healthily:
- Be patient and consistent when offering new foods
- Do not be forceful and never pressurize them
- Offer a small piece of fruit or vegetable with each meal
- Mix new foods with their usual food to encourage them to try
- Make use of colorful cutlery to make food visually appealing
- Offer smart and easy-to-hold healthy options like carrot sticks or apple slices
- Try new recipes for healthy toddler-friendly meals
- Include lots of games and activities with healthy food to make things interesting
Raising Healthy Eaters: School Going Children
By the time a child starts going to school, they have already developed many of their permanent eating habits. By now, they are likely to have their own preferences when it comes to food and they are usually less dependent on their parents. It is also the age when children might be more tempted to eat junk food and skip regular healthy meals. Making sure children continue to choose healthy food options may seem more challenging, but luckily with these tips, you can encourage them.
- Be encouraging and persistent while teaching them the benefits of healthy eating
- Set a good example by eating healthy yourself
- Pack them a nutritious lunch for school with the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables but make sure it looks fun to eat! No one wants to eat boring veggies
- Make sure you give plenty of healthy options for them to eat with very little quantity so that food isn’t wasted
- Instead of processed snacks, look for tasty but wholesome snacks such as frozen fruit sticks
- Involve them in grocery shopping and help them make healthy choices
- Have fun cooking activities at home and try out healthy recipes
Raising Healthy Eaters = Happy Child + Happy Parent
Undoubtedly a happy child equals a happy parent, and ultimately, isn’t that the goal? Raising healthy eaters may seem like a huge mountain to climb. But by being patient and persistent with your efforts throughout your child’s growing age, you can ensure they develop permanent healthy eating habits. Don’t force your children though. Forcing only leads to resentment of that particular food item and it often lasts all the way into adulthood.
Always remember: Never praise your child for eating. They aren’t eating to make you happy they are eating so that they fulfill their hunger and so they can be healthy. Praising takes it in a different direction. Instead, you can say: “Wow! I can see that you liked the vegetables today. Next time, I’ll make these along with this new recipe I have seen. Let’s see if you enjoy eating that one as much as you like this!”