Parents can play a very important role in helping children build healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime. One of the best ways to instill good eating habits in your children is to be a good role model by eating well yourself. That being said, you may find the following tips helpful as well:
- Buy and serve more fruits and vegetables, including fresh, frozen, canned, dried or 100% juice. All forms of fruits and veggies matter, and contribute to better health!
- Go lean with protein! Lean protein choices are lower in saturated fat and calories. Try substituting ground chicken or ground turkey breast for ground beef in recipes, or look for a leaner ground beef. Other lean protein food choices include nuts, seeds, seafood, beans, peas, eggs and soy products.
- Make at least half your grains whole. Whole grains are rich in fiber, iron and many B vitamins. They also tend to have more protein than refined grains. If you are choosing breads, look for the word "whole" on the package to ensure the product is 100% whole grain versus made with whole grains. For example, choose whole wheat bread instead of wheat bread. Other whole grain food choices include brown rice, oatmeal, rolled oats, popcorn, quinoa and corn meal.
- Choose low-fat or nonfat dairy products, which contain less saturated fat and calories than full fat dairy products. Dairy foods are often rich in protein, calcium and vitamin D, which are very important for overall health. Low-fat or nonfat milk, yogurt, and cheese are all great options.
- Eat with your children. Ideally, parents should eat what their children are eating, when they are eating it. Short-order cooking, preparing different meals and having different mealtimes for the family makes monitoring healthy eating habits difficult. If it is impossible to eat together as a family, keep the kids company at the table during their mealtimes by snacking on a salad, fruit or crudités, which is a great way to model desired behaviors.
- Focus on the little things. Offering children small bites, little pieces and easy-to-eat "trials" of fruits and vegetables can make tasting foods less overwhelming. When kids ask for more or finish what was given, they feel successful, which will help them repeat the behavior.
- Have fruits and vegetables ready to eat — already washed, sliced and at eye level in the refrigerator, packed in backpacks and ready for eating in the car after school. Known as the original fast food, fruits and vegetables are portable and convenient, if you are prepared.
- Make eating an enjoyable time. Children are more likely to try new foods if the atmosphere is relaxed and without pressure. Power struggles, bribes, threats, negotiations and ultimatums make fruits and vegetables less appealing.
- Encourage and praise children for tasting and trying fruits and vegetables to build their confidence.
Although it is never too late to get a child on track with eating fruits and vegetables, the earlier you start to implement the above points, the more successful the outcome. Eating behaviors that begin in childhood last forever.