As adults, we know how important it is to ensure that our children develop healthy behaviors as they grow. We set up play-dates so they can learn to interact with others and practice politeness and we implement a night-time routine that they associate with sleep, but do we ever focus on teaching them how to make healthy choices regarding food?
The statistics lead me to believe that we’re not educating our little ones how to eat – not only for taste, but also for nutrition.
According to New Jersey Family Magazine, 20 percent of preschool children are obese and 30 percent of all children are obese. Nearly one in three children ages 6 to 11 are either overweight or obese — a rate that has soared in New Jersey as well as the entire country in the past four decades.
These numbers should scare us. If we don’t start tackling the food issue with our kids at a young age, they will most likely fall into the overweight or obese category and once kids do carry extra weight, they are more susceptible to developing cardiovascular disease and a slew of other conditions.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5 to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Research shows that the younger kids are when they start to pick up healthy habits; the easier it will be for them to continue these habits throughout their lives. Unfortunately, most parents choose to wait until kids are in grammar school and inevitably swapping their tuna on wheat for cafeteria pizza and a Snickers bar to focus on healthy eating.
Bring the healthy eating conversation to life in your home!
Tips to Help Your Child Develop Healthy Habits:
Be an example. Even young kids can pick up on what mommy and daddy are eating. Eat healthy foods in front of the kids. Sit down to eat your meals and tell the kids how much you love to eat veggies and fruit because of how strong you feel. Even if they are too young to entirely comprehend what you’re saying, the repetition will sink in.
Don’t give up. Some of us give up when our kids tell us they don’t like a certain food, but if we continuously make them try it, they are more likely to acquire a taste for it. Research shows they might have to try the same food up to 15 times before liking it. If we accept that they don’t like most new foods – especially veggies – we are setting them up to have a limited palette and therefore, resorting to eating more processed foods.
Abolish the ‘Finish Your Plate’ rule. This rule usually leads kids to overeat, especially if they are taught at a young age to eat everything in front of them. Don’t think of it as a failure if they only take 2 bites of broccoli instead of eating it all — it just means the next time, you can expect them to eat 3 bites. It’s all about progression.
Be involved. Whatever ages your children are, they can help in the kitchen in some way. With your assistance, a 2-year-old can tear a piece of lettuce and put it into a salad bowl and a 5-year-old can wash tomatoes and pull stems off cherries. If they learn at an early age that they are required to be a part of the cooking process, they will continue the behavior.
Make dipping cups. Make different veggie each night and put a variety of toppings: low-fat cheese, hummus, guacamole, low-fat ranch dressing- into fun colored tasting cups and have them dip a veggie in each cup to experiment with healthy tastes. They will then ask for carrots with dressing or celery with hummus – which is a great way to introduce them to fresh foods.
Swap the bad for the good. Change one snack a day from pretzels, crackers, chips or cookies to fresh fruit, dried fruit crisps or fruit strips (all-natural with nothing added). It’s important not to take away all snack food from kids; otherwise, they might over-indulge when they are at school or friends’ houses, but by changing one snack a day, you are reducing their calorie intake and they are learning the art of balance.
Make it healthier. Take some of the food they love and make a healthier alternative. This teaches them that they can always eat tasty food, but it can be nutritious as well. Make a smoothie with low-fat yogurt, fresh fruit and nut butter instead of ice cream and cook macaroni and cheese with brown rice pasta, low-fat cheese and almond milk instead of the real deal.
Robin DeCicco is a holistic nutritionist who runs the Tenafly and Ramsey based The Power of Food Education. She counsels people on making healthier choices and specializes in changing behaviors to achieve life-long success. To learn more, visit http://www.poweroffoodeducation.com and https://www.facebook.com/poweroffoodeducation.
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