By: Colleen Hurley, RD and Certified Kids' Nutrition Specialist
It is never too early (or late) to start teaching your child how to make smart food choices. More and more studies are showing that early childhood eating habits can affect health status well into adulthood so here are 8 ways to encourage healthy eating habits in your kids:
1. Lead by example: Taking the "do as I say not as I do" approach to mealtimes simply won’t work. Your children looking to you for role modeling so when they see you eating healthy, they are more likely to eat healthy themselves even if you’re not around.
2. Take kids shopping: Not only does the grocery store make a great classroom, allowing your child to pick out a new fruit or vegetable makes them much more inclined to try it.
3. Make it tasty: Although that may seem obvious, be realistic about what your child will try especially when it comes to flavor and texture- kids like food that tastes good too! Going from potato chips to Brussels sprouts might be a stretch, but dipping some carrot sticks in salad dressing is a great place to start.
4. Find some fun: Kids of all ages love fun, so make trying a new food an adventure, a game, or an exciting experience so you will be sure to capture their undivided attention. This also applies to when they are simply unwilling to try a new food: avoid using punishment if they don't eat their veggies.
5. Let them help: Let your children help prepare meals, they are much more apt to eat foods they had a hand in preparing. It is also another fun way to keep a strong bond with your child.
6. Try, try again: The old adage “If at first you don’t succeed; try, again,” comes in handy when trying to get kids to sample new foods. Child development experts explain that kids may need to see a food several times before they will try it, but if you are consistent and patient they will eventually take a taste.
Related: 4 Eating Habits of Healthy Families
7. Be thoughtful of introductions: What you buy when grocery shopping and offer at meal/snack times is what your child will be used to eating so keep that in mind as your child enters toddler-hood. The bottom line is that they won’t be begging for Twinkies if they’ve never had one.
8. Keep it light: The mealtime mood that is, rather than making food a struggle. When babies become toddlers and start to assert their independence, food often becomes a key bargaining chip in the war on who’s the boss of the house. Don’t give food too much power, attempt peace negotiations by bribing your child to eat broccoli, enlist a bigger army of family members, retaliate, or raise the white flag of surrender when your child gives an Oscar winning speech on his distaste for all things green. Follow the above steps consistently and your child is sure to pick up some healthy eating habits.
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Colleen Hurley is a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Kids Nutrition Specialist. With a background in holistic nutrition, she provides corporate wellness consulting for Fortune 500 companies, familial and individual nutrition counseling, food product development, as well as consulting for food companies and brokers. In addition to numerous media appearances, Colleen writes a regular blog focused on maternal and infant nutrition for Mum Mum’s. Having celiac disease herself, Colleen specializes in helping families with young children healthfully cope with food allergies.