Healthy eating habits start when children are young. If you can encourage them to make good choices when they are still at home with you, they’ll make better choices when they get older. It’s not just about forcing them to eat their vegetables but sharing why it’s important and finding fun ways to make “boring” food look and taste great.
You’ll be surprised that younger children won’t have a problem with eating healthy options at home. In fact, many will choose sweetcorn, carrots, and peas over the likes of meat, potatoes, pasta and more. This is because the colors draw them in. The bright colors look good, and that must mean the food tastes good.
It’s as they get older that you’ll want to push more for healthy eating. That will mean making some changes to the way you stock your fridge and the items that you buy in the grocery store. You can also encourage different practices when it comes to making the food.
Here are five steps you want to take to ensure healthy eating at home. You’ll find children grow up with the good habits and an understanding as to why they’re so important.
Making Eating Healthy Food Fun
Let’s start with making the food and choosing the ingredients. You want to make trying the healthy food a fun part of the day. If children think the good food is the fun food, they’re going to want to eat more of it.
Avoid making statements about “I don’t think you’ll like it” or “you may not like this.” Those types of statements are encouraging your children to dislike the food without even giving it a try. Over time, they’ll start to avoid trying new food, because they always have the initial negative thoughts about being unsure as to whether the food is good or not.
When they are picking the healthy food, get them involved. Ask your kids to help choose the individual apples at the grocery store or choose between pears and oranges during the trip. Ask them to help find individual items on the list and even let them pick one item up to put in the trolley themselves. You can find something age appropriate for your children.
Children who feel more involved in the shopping process are more likely to try the food at home. They want to see what their hard work has created.
You can continue this in the cooking. Ask your children to help make dinner. It can be something as simple as washing the potatoes or picking the tomatoes out of the fridge. As they get older, they can do the jobs with the sharper objects and even move into cooking with you. Again, children who make the food are more likely to eat it. They want to taste what they’ve made and will appreciate the work that goes into making something more.
You can also make the plates look fun. Younger children work with the way the food looks. If it looks bland and boring, they’re going to avoid trying something. Try to present the food as well as possible. No, it’s not for an award show, but to make a point of colorful plates and fun designs. Just a simple smiley face goes a long way for the kids.
When you are trying something new, don’t make it all overwhelming. Opt for one new thing in a meal, so your children know there is other food they will enjoy. Never make a huge deal about them trying it until the end when they get praise for their hard work.
Encourage by Example
Your children will follow your example. If you want them to try something new, then you need to try it too. After all, why should they do something that an adult isn’t willing to do? It’s not fair, is it?
This is where having meal times together becomes very useful. You’re only making the one meal, and you encourage your children to eat the same food you eat. They’ll see that you have a plate of vegetables, so they’ll pile more on themselves. Your children see that other people are clearing their plates, so they’ll be encouraged to do the same.
There may be some foods that you don’t like. You may try new things yourself and decide that you’re not interested. This doesn’t mean you have to force yourself to eat them. Allow your kids to try the food first and decide if they want it. If they do, you can then leave yours to one side. Don’t make a huge fuss about not liking the dish, because that encourages your children to stop eating what they’ve already stated they enjoy.
When you have the meal again for the kids, opt for a substitute that’s healthy. For example, if you don’t like broad beans, substitute for peas or sweetcorn. If you don’t like tomatoes, substitute for another vegetable or fruit. Your children will see that you can make a switch, but you’re still switching to something that’s good for you.
As children get older, they’ll understand that not everyone likes the same things. They’ll start to understand that you may not like the same vegetables, but they’ll see that you substitute with something healthy. This encourages them to make similar substitutes.
When they get older and understand more about choices, you can also explain more about the substitutions. Explain why you stick to certain food groups and what the food offers. You’re showing how they are good for you, so you lead by example. Children go away with a deeper understanding as they grow up.
Leading by example isn’t just what you do when you’re sitting at the table. You also need to lead through cooking. Now and then a takeaway or eating out isn’t too bad, but you don’t want to do this every night. Most nights you want to cook, and it’s best to cook from scratch. That means to step away from the processed and packaged foods and use fresh ingredients. Your children will get used to this, so it all becomes a habit when they grow up.
Eating at home and making from scratch will give you more control over additives, extra calories, and portion sizes. Your children understand more about the reasons to avoid certain foods and the difference in tastes.
Opt for Spices and Herbs Instead of Salt
Salt is often added to food to add a little taste. The problem is that salt isn’t that healthy for you. Okay, so in moderation, it isn’t going to be too bad. But most food already has salt in it, especially when it comes to meats and some canned vegetables and products. So, you want to reduce the added salt as much as possible.
But you don’t want to cut out all the flavor of your food. It’s important to find this balance that works for the whole family.
Herbs and spices are the options you want to turn to. You can opt for either dried or fresh and you will still get many of the same benefits. Look out for those that are salt-free to help reduce the amount of salt you add to your diet for no reason.
Your children will have fun helping you with the herbs and spices. They’ll enjoy buying them and trying different flavors. Your children will want to try something different each time and get to know all the different tastes and scents that come from them. And they may even want to see the difference between fresh and frozen.
As your children grow up, their taste buds will be used to the lower levels of salt. When they have salt elsewhere, they will certainly taste the difference and likely prefer the healthier options at home.
You can also discuss all the health benefits of herbs and spices. This is especially the case for the likes of mint, turmeric, chilies and others that are good for boosting the immune system, reducing inflammation, and more.
It’s also possible to use fruits to help flavor some of your dishes. Instead of using salt in baking, you can opt for a little lemon juice. You can also use it in some of your water-based means to add a bit of zing to your meals. Lime is another popular option.
Lemons and limes are especially beneficial for water. They help to flavor in a natural and healthy way, boosting the health of those who drink it. If your children get used to seeing you drink lemon water and have it themselves, they’ll feel like soda, and other flavored drinks are a waste of time and money.
Encourage a Meatless Day Once a Week
Meat isn’t a vital part of the diet, if you substitute it with a high-protein option. Once a week, you can drop all the meat and opt for delicious vegetarian (and even vegan) dishes. It’s all about some pre-planning.
How does this help to encourage healthy eating at home? Well, you cut out a lot of saturated fats and sodium. This is especially the case if you eat a lot of red meat, which is the unhealthiest kind. Your kids get used to having no meat one day a week, and it becomes a normal part of their lifestyle. They can continue this as they get older because a meatless day isn’t daunting or worrying.
Instead of red meat, opt for legumes and beans. You can also add some soy (such as tofu) and quinoa. The two are complete proteins, so excellent substitutes for meat, especially if you want to try a meatless week and not just a meatless day.
On the days that you do eat meat, look at the types of meats you have. Skip the red meat as much as possible and stock up on more lean chicken, turkey and some fish. You can get a mixture of health benefits by getting rid of the fatty meats. Fish is full of omega 3 fatty acids (which are the good fats), while chicken and turkey are packed with lean protein for strong muscles and bones.
Your children will likely ask why you’re opting for meatless days and why you skip over certain types of meats. Discuss the pros and cons of the different options and how they affect the health. The more your children understand and get into good habits, the more they’ll continue these habits in the future.
Plan Your Meals Each Week
Meal planning is an important way to make healthy eating work in your lifestyle. It seems now that we spend all this time rushing around for work, the kids, and everyone else that we don’t have time to choose a meal. There isn’t time to create something delicious and good for you. Even when there is, it’s the last thing you want to do!
Planning will help you get into the habit of eating healthily. You also encourage others in the house to eat well. They can work out a meal plan with you and then will know exactly what they’re having and when. By planning out your meals for the full week, others can look at the plan and determine whether that snack is worth it.
You can also make your meals in advance when you plan. It’s possible to bulk cook on your day off work (getting the kids involved as much as possible) and separate the meals into portions. You can store in the fridge or freezer and then reheat on the days that you’re ready for the meals. Because you’re just reheating on the busy days, you’ll find it much easier to stick to the plan.
Meal planning will also help you eat healthily on a budget. You create a list of the ingredients you need when you go shopping, and that helps you cut out the processed junk in the stores. You spend less money on impulse buys because they’re not on the list. Your kids also get used to using a grocery list on the way around and get used to not buying off the list. However, keep in mind the first point. You want to get them involved in the food shop.
When you cut out the junk in the home, you’re less likely to eat it at all. You don’t want to go on a trip to the store when you decide you do want something, so you end up saving on the calories. This also helps you save on the junk food and damage it can do to your health.
You Can Eat Healthily and Set Your Kids Right
It’s time to encourage more healthy eating in the home. Your children will learn from when they’re young and pick up your habits. By setting them up with good habits, you make it easier for them to follow through with them in the future.
Don’t be afraid to get the kids involved in the grocery shop. You’ll find that when they’re involved they enjoy it and they want to do it more, which will make your life much easier and healthier!