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7 Ways to Encourage Healthy Eating in Kids for When You Can’t Decide for Them
We’re not going to be with our kids forever, and neither can we make all their food choices for them all the time. That’s why it’s so important to find ways to encourage healthy eating in our kids when we can.
Whether we’re sending them off to school for the day, like I had to do with my oldest this past year as she started kindergarten. 😢
Or going to a play date, spending time with friends or family while you have another child, or maybe they’re a bit older and going to a sleep-over or camp!
We can’t tell them what to eat when they aren’t with us!
Well, we can.
But, they don’t have to listen to us if we’re not there to enforce it.
Luckily, there are things we can do to promote healthy eating in kids so that they’ll want to keep eating healthy, even when we’re not watching!
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Now that you know why parents should encourage healthy eating, it’s time to answer your questions about how you, as a parent, can promote healthy eating in your children, and how you can promote it at home!
7 Ways to Encourage Healthy Eating in Kids for When You Can’t Decide for Them
Talk to them about expectations
If your child is old enough, you could simply talk to them about the food they should eat, and those they shouldn’t, when not at home.
However, doing this can do one of two things.
It will either clear things up in your childs mind and help them when they need to decide on the food they eat when you can’t tell them.
Or, if they have a little rebellious side, they will take the opportunity where you can’t control what eat, and eat all the foods you just told them not to!
Let’s hope they go with the first option, but if not, there are other ways to help encourage them to eat healthy; other than just telling them to.
Help them connect what they eat to how they feel afterwards
A better option, other than simply telling them what to eat when not with you, is to help them connect the dots from the food they eat to how they feel.
Believe it or not, what we eat affects how we feel physically and mentally.
Do you remember the last time your child had tons of sugar?
They were probably hyper and very active for a short period after, and then may have complained of a belly ache, not feeling well, or wanting to nap.
There’s nothing wrong in telling your child that the reason they feel this way is because of all the sugar they ate!
This actually happened recently in my own home. My husband gave into our oldest when she wanted sugary cereal. She decided to eat it for breakfast, and before she was even out the door for school she was regretting her choice.
She continued to eat the same thing for breakfast most of the week, by the end of the week she was asking me for a healthier breakfast from then on.
Now, my oldest is 6, but she probably understands the connection between what she eats and how she feels better than some adults I know!
And, it’s all because I talk to her about it and help her understand the connection, and have been doing so since she was real little. She’s even watched quite a few health documentaries with me, so she has had the chance to learn from me and others.
Even if your child is 3 or 4, don’t think they’re too young to start connecting the dots between what they eat and how they feel; more than likely, they will be completely capable of understanding!
Give them the responsibility to choose what they eat
If they’re old enough to understand the connection between what they eat and how they feel, then they’re old enough to start making some decisions themselves when it comes to what they eat.
If you hand the responsibility of what to eat over to them when they aren’t with you, then they may just choose what will keep them feeling good!
You may need to remind them before they leave, or before you drop them off, that if they choose to eat a lot of sugar (such as at a birthday party), then they may not feel very good later in the day, and won’t have as much long lasting energy to play.
But, at some point we’re going to have to let go and let them make all their own decisions. So, why not start with what they eat? At least with food, they’ll experience the benefits, or consequences, from their decision in the same day and can learn whether it was a good or bad decision for them.
Teach them about healthy eating as early in their life as possible
I already mentioned teaching my own daughter about healthy eating and the connection between what she eats and how she feels.
But, there’s more to know about healthy eating than just the way it makes someone feel.
Start teaching them about how healthy food benefits them. Or, how other foods can cause them to get sick.
Teach them about different vitamins, minerals, and macro nutrients in a way they can understand.
Let them know eating oranges, strawberries, tomatoes and other citrus fruits contain Vitamin C, which will help their immune system, or help them not get sick.
Where as eating plenty of protein, like beans or tofu, will help them build strong muscles. Eating carbs, like pasta or bananas, will give them energy. And, eating healthy fats, like nuts or avocado, will help keep them full and satisfied!
There is a lot more you can discuss with them about healthy eating, but those should help you get started.
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Be a good example for them
Even more important than talking to them, teaching them, or helping them connect what they eat to how they feel; is what you eat!
Kids love to eat what their parents eat. So much so, that I can barely eat a whole meal or snack without one of my kids asking for some. I can’t even have a full green smoothie to myself!
But, don’t think that they will only eat the healthy food you eat, or even that that’s all they see you eating.
They see everything when you eat. If you push your vegetables to the side, or eat only the potato on your plate. They see if you sneak some candy when you think they’re not looking, or the fact that their dad gets snack food at the store.
They see you and they are watching and learning. The way you eat, may very well be the way they eat, even if you try to teach them better.
Actions are stronger than words. So, if you really want to encourage them to eat healthy, make sure you’re eating healthy, too!
Eat healthy at home, so healthy eating is normal
In line with you eating healthy to show them how to eat healthy; try to keep all meals and snacks at home healthy.
If you normalize healthy eating at home, from when they are very young, then that’s what they think is normal; even if the rest of the world thinks otherwise.
Make eating healthy at home a big deal, so they’ll want to share their good eating habits with friends and others
To make a bigger impact at home with healthy eating, make it a big deal.
If you’re starting to try to turn your family’s eating habits around so that everyone eats healthier, this will help a ton!
Even if your family eats healthy, it doesn’t hurt to make eating healthy a big deal and feel special.
If you haven’t checked out the other sections on this site yet, there is a section for my own healthy recipes with pictures of the healthy food. And, for some time last summer, I started taking pictures of the healthy food I ate and posted it on Instagram.
Now, my oldest daughter wants me to take a picture of all the food she eats, simply because it’s healthy! Sometimes I do take pictures of it, and sometimes I don’t. Either way, she still gets excited about it, especially when it’s a healthy food she used to not like eating. (Did I mention, my oldest is also a pretty picky eater!)
She’ll even tell me about the food other kids eat at school and in her own words how ‘one of her friends says shes a vegan or vegetarian, but she’s really not because she eats fish or drinks cows milk’. For some background, we eat mostly vegan.
But, it still amazes me sometimes how much she knows about food and healthy eating simply because I’ve included teaching it to her in everyday life since she was 3 or 4 years old.
You Can’t Always Make their Food Choices for them…
But, you can prepare them to make healthy eating choices when you aren’t with them.
From teaching them about nutrition, eating healthy yourself, or connecting the dots between how they feel and what they ate; there are plenty of ways to encourage healthy eating so that it simply becomes second nature to them to do so.
If they choose an unhealthy option when not with you, it’s also not the end of the world; they’re still learning, and maybe that one choice will be enough to teach them that what you were telling them about eating was right!