The goal for healthy eating should be to make fruits and vegetables part of every meal, while making nutritional choices easy and natural for kids. There is no specific diet that is appropriate for all children, but consider these five mindful tips for creating an environment where the healthy choice.
1. Model healthy food choices
Give your kids the chance to witness healthy food choices firsthand. They are very aware of everything that goes on around them and they are likely to mimic you, want what you have, or what they see. So if drinking out of your cup is exciting to them, consider filling it with water.
You can also comment on why you like your vegetables while you eat them, and praise others at the dinner table who are eating their veggies, too. Drawing attention to healthy consumption goes a long way.
2. Let kids get involved
Kids love to help, so have your child join in on the next grocery trip and invite them to pick healthy foods. This makes them a key player in selecting items they are willing to eat. Also, consider allowing kids to make their own dinner plate. This encourages them to take only what they think they can eat and creates some excitement at meal times.
3. Control nutritional access
Limit the food options at home to only healthy ones. Keep candy, soda and other sweets away and out of kids’ reach so they are no longer a choice. Consider avoiding high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, including foods that have high sugar content and sugar-sweetened beverages.
4. Avoid negatively labeling foods
When it comes to creating a positive outlook on food, we do not want to shame anyone for eating certain items. We encourage “healthy foods” that we eat plenty of, and “fun” foods that should be eaten in moderation. Unless you have talked with your doctor about meeting certain weight goals, the emphasis for nutrition in the home should be on eating healthily and having a balanced diet, not one dictated by a scale or what we see in the mirror.
5. Create a mindful eating environment
For each meal, try to give yourself and your child at least 20 minutes to eat. This gives their stomach enough time to let their brain know when they are full to avoid overeating. Create the habit of eating as a family to cultivate the mindset of gathering together. As you all talk about your day and unwind, this will help lengthen the meal time and allow for proper digestion of meals. Also, allow kids to listen to their own hunger and fullness cues and avoid forcing kids to “clean their plates.” They should be allowed to stop eating when their fullness cues are triggered, so use your own judgment to validate and trust when they say they are hungry or full.
Overall, make dietary changes as a family! Parents, you are a role model to your kids -- the more healthy changes you make, the more your family can collectively be healthier together.
About the Author
Dr. Maryam Hockley is a third-year pediatric resident with Valley Children’s Pediatric Residency Program. She is passionate about public health and advocating for underserved communities.
Dr. Hockley's care philosophy centers on equity and justice: “Above all, I want my patients to know me as their ally and advocate, standing beside them on their road to health, from all walks of life, backgrounds, and circumstances.”