I certainly don’t profess to know the exact formula for turning your kids into healthy eaters.
But it seems to me, there is one very important strategy for increasing the chances that your child will grow into a healthy eater, and it’s all about getting your focus right.
I’ve noticed this over and over again, if your area of focus is always on the short-term needs of your child, chances are you’ll spend much of your time feeling guilty that their diet isn’t up to scratch.
Obviously it’s important that your children are well nourished and meeting their nutritional needs in an immediate sense. But, if that is your continual focus, it can get you feeling stressed.
Don’t Focus On A “Perfect” Diet
Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect diet. Pressurizing your child to eat perfectly all of the time is certainly going to backfire. You know it isn’t possible for you, so don’t try to impose this on your children, too.
So, what exactly should you be focusing on?
As I’ve said, short-term goals are important, but you also need to keep the bigger picture in mind, that is, your long-term goals.
You need to ask yourself, “Is my daily feeding ritual in line with my long-term goals?”
Never Force Feed
If you find yourself forcing your children to eat certain foods, let me stop you there… that won’t work. EVER. I know it can be tempting, but don’t do it.
So for example, if your child is going through a phase of not eating “green veg,” don’t freak out! Just be consistent, keep offering a wide range of foods, set an example by eating a healthy diet yourself, and don’t stress if they refuse to eat certain things.
Chances are they will eventually give in to eating that particular food, and if not, it’s no big deal. As long as their overall diet is pretty well balanced, there’s no need to get stressed over it.
In fact, there’s never a need to get stressed. Children pick up on that, and it wrecks havoc on what you are trying to achieve. Try to be cool, calm and collected at all times in the kitchen :-)
Eat As A Family
I also recommend that you only serve one meal for the whole family. Don’t fall into the trap of cooking different meals for each child.
Serve your meals with a selection of vegetables and healthy carbs. If you feel the need, allow some bread, and perhaps a little fruit and natural yogurt (or other healthy foods which they will eat) on the table as well. That way, if they won’t eat what you’ve served as a meal, they will have a healthy alternative option to choose from.
Experts suggest that for some children it takes up to 15 tries of certain foods before they will eat it. For other children, though, it will take way more than that. The best thing you can do it be patient and consistent.
You should also try to encourage a pleasant family environment, where everyone sits at the table together. Try to avoid arguments over food at the table, and never bring guilt to the table either — if they won’t eat what’s been prepared, let it go.
Allow Self-Regulation On Food Intake
Your aim is to expose your children to lots of different foods and flavors when they are young.
You also want them to be able to regulate what they eat and how much. That’s one reason why the “clean your plate brigade” doesn’t work, and should not be used in your home.
Not convinced this will work?
Think about it for a second…
You probably believe your children will learn to read books, make friends, drive a car, manage their own finances some day, right?
However, when it comes to eating, parents have a hard time believing their kids can do this all by themselves. Many feel they need to tell their children what they should eat, when, and how much.
Lead By Example
Obviously, there is a certain amount of guidance you can and should provide, but aside from that, how about just believing that they will eventually learn to eat well if you give them the right teaching, show them how by living it out in your own eating habits, and then make sure healthy food is always available to them?
That’s far more effective in my book.
No doubt your children won’t always make healthy food choices, but we don’t as adults either. It’s all a learning process. You must allow your children to make these choices for themselves.
I must admit, there are days when Elissa eats really well, but other days, particularly at dinner time, she refuses to eat any vegetables or meat, just the rice and maybe some kidney beans or chickpeas, for example.
I have to remind myself to keep an eye on the long-term goal. Eventually she will eat well everyday, and eat more of the food placed in front of her as the months and years go on.
The important thing is not to make food a battleground, but to learn to trust your children to grow into the healthy eaters you want them to be when they are older.
How do you keep things in perspective when it comes to feeding your children?