Many mothers have come to me in desperation, complaining that they can’t get their child to eat healthy food. And I really understand this struggle, as I went through a very difficult period with my own son, in which all he wanted to eat was ketchup sandwiches for about 6 months!
Here are some tips which have helped me to transform my kids from junk-food addicts to (mostly!) healthy eaters…
10 Tips for Raising a Healthy Eater
The first and most important step is to get rid of ALL unhealthy food in your house.
- Are you still here? Ok I know, it may seem impossible! But kids are like junk-food magnets, if it’s available, that’s all they will want to eat (Cutting the junk out gradually can make this task easier). And in case you’re worried, your child will probably still get plenty of unhealthy food at school, a friend’s house, or grandma’s house! Replace the junk food with one of these healthy treats instead…
- You may not be able to control what your child eats outside the home, but you DO have control over -and are responsible for- what they eat in your home. So just do it. Get rid of the potato chips, biscuits, packaged cakes, sugary cereals, and other highly processed and sugar-laden foods. In my opinion, most of these should not even be considered “food”, as they are not fit for human consumption.
- These foods are empty of nutrition and usually contain chemicals (artificial colors, flavors, etc) which are harmful to your child. They also contain chemicals and high amounts of sugar and salt which are designed to make the food taste “better”. As a result, your child loses his taste for natural, wholesome foods and instead craves the unhealthy food. Get in the habit of reading the ingredients of everything you buy. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, don’t buy it!
- If a snack is needed, chose healthy options such as fresh fruit, nuts, yogurt, dates, or carrot & cucumber sticks.
- Remember, NO child in the history of human-kind has ever willingly starved to death! If only healthy food is available, your child will eventually get hungry enough and will eat it. And eventually, when his tastes adjust, he will even learn to love it! But if junk food is available, he will always prefer it over wholesome, nourishing food.
Do not allow your child to fill up on snacks or milk between meals.
- It’s helpful to schedule a snack time and keep it consistent every day.
- By the way, if your diet is filled with nourishing, unprocessed foods, you won’t feel the need to snack as much.
Do not make meal time a battle by forcing your child to eat something he doesn’t like.
- Instead, explain to him that the food you have prepared is what’s available to him, and you won’t be preparing anything special for him before the next meal.
- Do not turn your kitchen into a restaurant. It is said that a child may have to try a new food 10-15 times before he acquires a taste for it. So be patient and keep trying!
Don’t force your child to clean his plate when he is full.
- Children are much better than us at knowing when they are hungry or full, and it’s important that they pay attention to this signal.
- But at the same time, don’t let him fill up on rice or bread so that he has no room for more nourishing foods.
Food is not a reward.
- We should view food first and foremost as nourishment, not as a reward for good behavior or as a “bribe”.
- I see so many people here in Saudi offering candy to children in order to make them stop crying or to get them to agree to something. This teaches children to eat when they’re not hungry in order to reward themselves. And as adults, how many of us struggle with our weight because we so often use food as a reward for our hard work or as a way to relief stress??
Let your children get involved with the process of meal preparation.
- Take them to the grocery store and let them pick out fruits or vegetables which appeal to them.
- Let them help you in the kitchen (as much as they are able for their age and developmental level). Kids are often more willing to eat food which they have helped plan and prepare.
Add more probiotics to your child’s diet. (Read all about probiotics here)
- Research has shown that bacteria living in your gut are able to release chemicals which cause you to crave the foods which those bacteria feed on. So, for example, if there are bacteria in your gut which feed on sugar, that bacteria can send messages to your brain which actually make you crave sugar!
- Probiotics are the best way to fight this.
Be a good role model.
- Children learn from example. If they see you eating a healthy diet, they will be much more inclined to do the same.
Don’t underestimate your child’s intelligence.
- Kids can often understand much more than what we give them credit for. Talk to your child and teach him about the effects unhealthy food has on your body, and how sick it can make you. Tell him about the suffering which sick people must endure because they haven’t taken care of themselves.
Remember that in the end, they are still kids.
- They will probably always prefer a donut over a plate of vegetables (who wouldn’t?). But with consistent rules (and lots of patience!) you can teach your child that healthy eating is not only delicious, but also makes you feel great!