Parents and caregivers have an extremely important role to play in the business of raising children who are healthy eaters.
You may not even realize how important you are to your child’s future relationship with food, but you are their role model, whether good or bad.
This means you can have a massive impact on how they view themselves, their body, and their relationship with food.
So, what kind of impact are you leaving on them?
I find a lot of parents are pretty diligent about what their baby eats until the age of 1 year, then it’s often downhill from there.
That’s a big mistake, though, since most of your child’s food learning will occur up to the age of 5 years.
So, those very early years are crucial, which means you need to do what you can now, before it’s too late.
Don’t worry if your kids are older, though, there’s still lots you can do to help them…
7 Tips For Healthy Kids
1. Learn From Your Past
There are so many lessons we can learn from our own childhood, which can help in raising our own children.
Think back, what did your parents eat? How did they feed you? Were they controlling or permissive? Were you forced to clean your plate? Did they make eating candy and dessert like a reward for good behavior? If you were overweight, how was that discussed?
These are important questions, not as an exercise in assigning blame for your relationship with food, but because the answers can give you a considerable amount of insight into what has made your eating what it is today, whether that’s good or bad.
Then ask yourself if you are leading your child down the same path, or a different one?
I believe the best way to conquer issues with food is to understand where those issues came from, learn how to let go of them, and replace them with a new way of looking at food.
It won’t be easy, but it has to be worth the effort for the sake of your children, and the generations to come.
2. Don’t Pass on Your Food Baggage
You may have a certain amount of ‘food baggage,’ which you have gathered down through the years.
But, when a baby is born it doesn’t have this, that is, they don’t see food as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ they simply eat when hungry and stop when full.
If you let them, they have all the tools in their possession to make the best choices about what to eat, and when.
We can learn from them, in fact, because they are truly masters at regulating their food intake, without giving any thought to the calorie content of what they are eating.
Those hunger and satiety signals are still in there somewhere for you, too.
You just need to tune in to them, and start heeding what they are telling you… eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re satisfied, not bursting.
This is what babies and young children do.
Allow them to do that, and continue to nurture this ability as they grow up — it will be a huge help to them in the coming years.
3. Don’t Be a Food Nazi
It’s great to serve healthy food, but be aware that the way you do so can have a massive impact on your kids future relationship with food.
If you constantly push certain foods, your children will feel like they are being controlled, and this can lead to rebellion or sneaking food.
I’m not asking you to indulge your child either, as that brings it’s own set of issues, but to try and get the balance right between being too authoritarian or too permissive.
In terms of limiting unhealthy foods, I totally understand that many parents want to keep these to a minimum. And, there is a temptation to avoid having them in your home completely.
However, your child needs to learn how to eat this kind of food, too.
I mean, how can they understand what it means to eat these foods in moderation, without any practice?
Allowing your children to eat dessert and candy from time-to-time will help them to understand the basic rule of eating well most of the time.
Often when children are completely deprived of these foods, they end up spending all their pocket money on sweets, sometimes behind their parents back, because they weren’t taught how to enjoy these foods in moderation.
Deprivation is a sure-fire way to make unhealthy foods seem a lot more appealing than they ought to be.
So, you need to teach your children that some foods are enjoyable to eat but don’t provide a lot of nutrition, and therefore this is why we don’t eat them a lot.
Notice my emphasis is on the food being low nutrition, it’s not about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods.
Teach them that small amounts of candy, chocolate, and ice cream are okay. Then, show them that you eat in this way, too.
Don’t fall into the trap of telling your children they can’t have certain foods, then sneaking them yourself when they go to bed.
Be real with them.
It’s important that your children have a healthy role model on how to eat all types of foods, so when they grow up they can feel confident around food.
You can demonstrate this to them day-in day-out, by living that lifestyle yourself.
That is waaay more powerful than simply telling them what they should and shouldn’t eat.
Live it first!
4. Look After Your Own Health
It’s so easy to get swamped when you have children to look after. But, looking after your own nutritional needs, is like investing in your future health.
Not only will it ensure you are feeling your best, so you can continue to look after your family, but when you nurture yourself, it shows your child exactly how to make feeding themselves a priority.
You want that for your children, so do it for yourself, and they will be more likely to follow suit.
5. Foster a Positive Body Image
In one study looking at normal weight teenagers (aged between 13 and 19 years), they were asked how they felt about their bodies in terms of weight.
Eleven years later (age 24-30), those who perceived themselves as overweight during adolescence, gained more weight in young adulthood, than those who saw themselves as normal weight.
This shows the importance of focusing on what a “healthy” body weight is as your children grow up.
It is also important to highlight that there will be natural differences in body shape, so that they realize not everyone needs to have the same size and shape.
If you have your own body image issues, it’s something you’ll be desperate not to pass on to your children.
For many people, even though they work hard to maintain a healthy weight, they are still unhappy with their body.
So, if you want your children to learn how to embrace their own body shape, you must do the same yourself. It is absolutely key that they see this in you first.
I know this can be difficult, but it’s vital.
6. Work on a Consistent Sleep Pattern
You may think sleep has little to do with weight, but there is a lot of evidence linking poor sleeping habits to a pattern of increased eating in adults and children.
There are a number of reasons for this, including changes in metabolism, an increase in hunger hormones, and also that the type of food craved when we have little sleep tends to be less healthy.
One study found that preschool children who regularly sat down to dinner with their family, got sufficient sleep, and had limited screen time were 40% less likely to be obese.
These healthy habits are closely intertwined, and work hand-in-hand together.
7. Be Active Together
There are now more ways than ever for adults and children to be sedentary, but you can drastically reduce the likelihood of a similar situation in your own home.
One study found that children who had a television in their rooms not only watched more TV, but were less likely to be active as a family, and more likely to buy soft drinks and snacks at school.
So, what can you do?
I would suggest keeping TVs out of bedrooms, as well as limiting screen time to less than 2 hours each day.
It is also important you find active things to do together, because making activity a part of everyday life is the key to developing this habit for life.
Children naturally move, and enjoy doing so. It’s not because they feel like they should, it’s just what they do best!
This is what psychologists call the Self Determination Theory. Basically, we are more likely to do something we’re internally motivated to do.
Take a leaf out of their book.
If you need to lose weight, for example, rather than saying, “I need to lose 20 pounds by summer,” try thinking more about the daily benefits you get from healthy habits, such as clearer skin, more energy, improved sleep patterns, or being more productive.
Please don’t underestimate the influence you have as a parent. You are a secret weapon to good health. Don’t let that power go untapped.
Start today… remember nothing works better than prevention!