By Erin Caraher RDN, CDN
As children grow up, it’s important to teach them the value of a healthy lifestyle. Being a role model and demonstrating living a healthy lifestyle yourself is the best way to do so. You can also help them by providing a calm and reassuring environment at mealtimes. Try not to put too much pressure on them. It is your job as the parent or caregiver to provide a balanced meal with all types of food. It is the child’s job to determine how much and what they eat.
We can help guide them by offering a variety and letting them choose how much and what they eat. This will help them to make their own decisions about food. This often helps prevent picky eating. When we pressure our kids and try to force them to eat, this can cause a very stressful environment and often leads them to want to rebel. Did you know it could take many exposures of a food for a child to try it and like it? Don’t stop serving them broccoli just because one day they don’t eat the broccoli. Keep offering it. If they choose not to have it, that’s okay. Typically, after seeing it often enough, seeing everyone around them eating it, and being the one to make the choice to eat it, they will eventually try the food.
Be patient, calm and reassuring. When you start introducing foods to your baby, you may have to take a hard look at your own diet. Are you eating fast food or processed food a lot? Are you eating consistently throughout the day (three meals, two-three snacks) and filling your plate with protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains? If you want your children to grow up and live healthy balanced lives, it starts when they are little by teaching them and demonstrating this healthy lifestyle. Soon, it will just be who they are and hopefully that means they will be natural little intuitive eaters who never have to worry about diets.
Here are some tips to help your child grow up with a healthy relationship with food:
- Offer a variety of food at all meals. Try not to repeat the same food every day.
- Eat consistently and have structured meal and snack times.
- Try not to say, “If you finish your dinner, you’ll get dessert.” In a child’s mind, this means dessert is the reward and a bigger deal than it should be. Make dessert a non-issue. Offer it from time to time, but don’t make it any different than the other foods that are being served.
- Expose your child to all types of food. Try not to teach them a food is bad or good. We can educate our children and teach them how different foods contain beneficial nutrients, but we don’t want negative talk around food.
- Reflect on how you act around food and be aware of comments you or other family members make. Little minds absorb a lot, and if your child hears talk of diets and restriction, this can cause them to grow up thinking they have to do that too.
Let’s try to break this cycle of fad diets and restrictive eating by raising intuitive eaters.
Erin Caraher RDN, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist who works with Bariatric and Medical Weight Management patients to help them achieve their health and weight loss goals.