Establishing good eating habits in childhood and adolescence is important, as these will be a foundation for life. What we eat early on shapes brain development, metabolism and overall health.
Children have no jobs and no money so when it comes to food, they’re going to need your help. Having said that, children do a pretty good job of self-regulation when it comes to eating. The best thing parents can do is provide a variety of healthy options, get them involved in preparing food, show them where food comes from and otherwise, stay out of the way.
Given the right conditions, kids tend to be intuitive eaters; their body cues tell them how much they need. Some days they’ll eat more, some days less. Their bodies will naturally regulate their intake over the long term.
The last thing you need is another set of “rules” or “shoulds” – there’s plenty of that particularly when it comes to how to raise children. What I’d like to offer instead is a set of concrete strategies that might help you get the nutritional job done for yourself and the family in ways you can manage right now.
Strategies that DON’T work:
- Offer them food as a reward when they’re upset.
- Have strict rules about good and bad foods.
- Push them to finish everything on their plate or eat when they aren’t hungry.
- Bribing them.
Instead, try these strategies that will help kids eat intuitively and naturally for life:
- Serve them a variety of minimally processed whole foods.
- Serve appropriate portions.
- Give them the illusion of choice and self-determination. For example, you can tell them what protein is on the menu for dinner and ask them to choose which vegetables they want to have with it.
- Let kids stop eating when they’re no longer hungry.
- Avoid strict eating rules or references to children’s weight.
- Don’t keep unhealthy choices in the house and do make healthy choices abundantly available. (Don’t make this a big deal – just make poor choices simply and quietly unavailable).
- Involve kids in shopping, menu planning and cooking
- Slow down and encourage mindful eating.
- Eat together as a family as often as possible. Turn off all the gadgets and make meal-time family-time.
Above all, remember, you’re the parent and children have little autonomy or buying power. That means, you’re the one buying the foods and deciding what’s available in your house. You’re the role model, educator and wise guide. You can provide a healthy structure and set clear, appropriate limits.
P.S. If you struggle with your own relationship with food, and want to get in great shape, talk to us about the 365 Nutrition Coaching program. Over 365 days, one small habit at a time we will work together to redefine your relationships to food, exercise and to yourself – for life!