For many adults, health and wellness are at the top of the list when it comes to New Year resolutions. For children, their resolutions might look a little more like resolving to pet more dogs or eat more candy. We know that for children, healthy eating is crucial during their developmental years. So, it is up to parents to make healthy eating a top priority and teach children how to take care of their bodies to set up good habits for the future. Here are a few tips for prioritizing healthy eating and improving your kids’ nutrition in the new year.
Get your children into the kitchen
Getting your children excited about healthy eating can be challenging. One of the best ways to achieve this is to get them in the kitchen. Having your child help you prepare healthy meals can be a fun way to expose them to new fruits or veggies they have not experienced before. Depending on their age, they can help with mixing, pouring, measuring, or chopping ingredients. Studies show that non-taste exposure to food plays a vital role in accepting new foods when put on their plates (1). Exposing them to new foods early and often in a fun environment can help build a positive association with healthy eating in the future.
Try new foods
As a parent, you know very well that children can be picky eaters, especially in their toddler years. But, they can also be adventurous eaters if given the opportunity. It can be challenging to keep offering a food your child did not eat at first, but it is important to continuously offer a new food as it takes about 8-10 times of exposure before they may like it (1). To help expand your child’s palate with new foods, try experimenting with new seasonings or textures. You can try roasting broccoli one day and steaming the next; it may take a few different cooking methods before finding which way they prefer the new food. You can also try adding veggies to foods they already like, such as blending fresh vegetables into pasta sauce or adding butternut squash to mac n cheese. The key is to always make sure to tell them what you have added to the dish; this honesty prevents loss of trust when it comes to trying new foods.
Eat together more
For many families, mealtimes together can be the last priority in the busy times we live in. With school, work, and extracurricular activities, finding time to sit down together to enjoy a meal can be difficult. Nonetheless, family meals prove to have many benefits and should become a part of your routine. Studies show family meals are more nutritious; families who eat together are twice as likely to eat their five servings of fruits and vegetables than families that do not eat together (2). Start with small steps; try to increase family mealtimes by one extra meal a week. Get your children involved, have them help plan the menu for the week, or go grocery shopping with you. Ultimately, try to focus on the importance of being together as opposed to making an elaborate meal.
Make healthy eating fun
It’s no secret that children are not naturally excited about eating their veggies. But, there are a few ways to get them to have fun while getting nutritious foods onto their plates. Have them help make the meal or snack by adding toppings onto their pizzas or choosing the fruits to add to a parfait. Let them get messy! Allowing them to explore the texture and consistency using non-taste senses can take off some of the pressure of trying new food. Let them use their imagination when it comes to mealtime; playing with their food can be a fun way to introduce healthy foods while they get more comfortable with them.
Practice what you preach
We know that children learn by example. So, if you want your children to have healthy eating habits, you will have to show them how to do it. The goal is for your children to be able to choose healthy options on their own. You can start by preparing and eating healthy foods whenever possible to foster these healthy habits in your children. To set yourself up for success, an excellent way to start is to fill your pantry with healthy options to choose from. Start slow, make it a goal to prepare 1-2 healthy meals a week, and work your way up to more. You can also try finding recipes to recreate your favorite takeout meals in a more healthful way. Small changes can make all the difference.
- V. Cosmi, S., K. Ventura Alison, J., Harris, G., Nicklaus, S., M. Sandell, B., Johnson, S., DA. Dev, C. (1970, January 01). Developing Healthy Food Preferences in Preschool Children Through Taste Exposure, Sensory Learning, and Nutrition Education. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13679-018-0297-8
- Gillman, M. W., Rifas-Shiman, S. L., Frazier, A. L., Rockett, H. R., Camargo, C. A., Jr, Field, A. E., Berkey, C. S., & Colditz, G. A. (2000). Family dinner and diet quality among older children and adolescents. Archives of family medicine, 9(3), 235–240. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10728109/