By- Aby League
Most if not all parents want their kids to embrace healthy eating habits. However, this dream seems to become the impossible one when the picky eating “phase” kicks in. Indeed, it is rare to find a child who would eat anything and everything you give them and it is normal for kids to develop favorites, but selective eating becomes a problem when it starts to affect not only their nutrition, but their relationships with family and friends as well.
According to a study conducted by the Duke University School of Medicine, around 20 percent of children aged two to six are selective eaters, most of whom were classified as moderately picky. Three percent of the children were classified as severely selective, and their food intake is so limited that it affects their ability to eat with other people, often requiring parents and guardians to prepare a separate meal for them regardless of the situation and occasion. Yes, may it be at family dinners at home or at friends’ birthday parties. Even if your kids haven’t reached that point yet, are you going to wait until they do before you do something?
True enough, your child may just be going through a phase, but if you are hoping to break the cycle as early as now, here are some proven ways to get your kids to eat better without them noticing.
1. Set an example
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If you don’t eat healthily yourself, how can you expect your kids to do so? And how could you even exert an effort to make them eat healthier if you yourself don’t see the value of proper diet and nourishment? The most important step toward instilling healthy eating habits in your kids is by setting an example and showing them how much you enjoy nutritious foods. Munch on strawberries and bananas like they’re the best food there are in the world (they probably are anyway!) and you might get your kids to try them voluntarily and eventually love them.
2. Cook and eat more at home
If you know how a meal was prepared and what’s in it, you can make sure they are how you want them to be: healthy and free of artificial flavorings and preservatives. Furthermore, eating home-cooked meals together is not only healthier, it can also bring the family together. And while you happily dine and share fun stories with each other, your kids are more likely to focus on the moment—while willingly eating what they’re served—than complain about their food. Eating at home can also make setting an example (see number 1) easier.
3. Get the kids involved
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Most children enjoy helping their parents shop for groceries. For them, this is the time to choose what goes into the pantry and their lunchbox. You, on the other hand, should take this as a chance to condition them into choosing healthier food items. Teach them how to read labels and show them healthier but equally tasty alternatives to their typical go-to choices. Just be careful not to be too pushy, though, or they might see through your motives!
4. Set up a schedule and stick to it!
Routines may be boring, but spontaneity has no place in a home where picky eaters live and dine. According to DMCI Communities Blog, one of the effective ways to make your child eat healthy in your home or condo is to set up and stick to a regular snack and meal schedule. This can help your child ease into a healthy eating habit slowly but surely. In time, your child’s body will get used to the schedule, and hunger pangs, and cravings for unhealthy food will eventually be easier to manage. Kids typically need to eat every three to four hours: three full meals, two snacks, and lots of fluids. Set your alarms and when you’re out, it will help to take healthy snacks and drinks with you. This way, you won’t have to rely on fast food and chips when the kids get hungry.
5. Favor appetizers over desserts
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Serve your family healthy appetizers so there will be less room for desserts that are, most often than not, all sugar and empty calories. Make some hearty vegetable soups during cold days and fresh veggie and fruit salads during hot days. You can also set the table with a bowl of healthy munchies such as baby carrots, corn, potatoes, and nuts, among others, to keep the kids’ mouths busy while they wait for their meals.
6. Practice moderation
You can’t simply shove healthy eating in your child’s face. The trick to cooking healthily yet stealthily is to practice moderation in terms of replacing food and ingredients. This way, the subtle changes can pass unnoticed. If you replace everything in one go, you can expect to see protesting faces ready to go into a hunger strike.
Furthermore, moderation should also be applied when preparing meal servings and offering snacks. After all, variety, balance, adequacy, and moderation should always go hand in hand when we talk nutrition.
7. Conceal, don’t (let them) feel
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Healthy eating, for kids, may not sound as exciting as snack time, fast food or chips, so you will likely need to do some ninja moves to get them to eat the way you want them to without triggering a protest. You can sneak in healthy foods through a number of ways. Blend a smoothie with “secret” ingredients such as carrots or celery, for instance. Bake homemade fries or veggie chips made of sweet potatoes or bananas. Pair fruit and veggie chops and strips with dips that your kids like. Add real fruits in their morning cereal. You may also cut the food into unusual shapes to make them look more appetizing. Speaking of which, you may want to play with food presentation. Mix neutral-colored items (like apple and potatoes) with bright-colored ones (like strawberries and kiwi).
Children love savory, tasty, and flavorful foods. However, as good as kids are in choosing delicious foods, they may lack the ability to distinguish healthy foods from unhealthy ones, and here’s where you come in. By substituting savory-but-not-so-healthy food items with equally-tasty-yet-healthier ingredients, it will be easier to make your kids eat healthily. Here are some substitutions you can try:
- One whole egg ~ two egg whites
- Ground beef or pork ~ ground turkey
- Cheese (flavored) food ~ real cheese
- Processed meat ~ real meat
- Salt ~ natural herbs and spices
- Soda and artificially-flavored juices ~ naturally pureed and juiced fruits and veggies
- White flour products (pasta and bread) ~ whole wheat
- Chips ~ healthy trail mix (those that include nuts, seeds, and raisins)
9. Special tips for especially picky eaters
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Not all kids are the same, so if you feel that success is still far from your grasp, here are other ways for you to be able to make your child eat healthier.
- Offer one new food at a time
- Offer food only when hungry
- Make it fun: serve and offer food playfully
- Serve new food with favorites
- Have occasional treats
- Be consistent. Don’t give up on encouraging them to try new foods
- Don’t back down. Don’t give in to whining and crying
- BUT keep your cool. Try not to comment on the way and how much they’re eating. Don’t be mad every time they refuse to eat what you give them. Realize that your relationship with your child is as equally important as getting them to eat healthier. As much as possible, show that you care for them and that it is the reason why you want them to be healthy.
Thinking of healthy eating activities for kids and making them practice proper eating habits can indeed be challenging, if not frustrating. But with adequate knowledge, persistence, and determination, your children will eventually realize that you only want the best for them. Just make sure that everyone in your household—including grandparents and babysitters, for instance—know and understand your mission so they won’t sabotage it by spoiling your children when you’re away!