Children enjoy rules and discipline, as long as these rules are reinforced in a positive way with a smile. Here is my smiley face 🙂 Encourage positive eating habits from day one, with a smiley face. Well … day one might be a bit early but as soon as your child can use the highchair, it is essential to grow positive eating habits so that the child does not have to struggle with the “rules” when she/he grows up.
Children who learn and practice positive eating habits are likely to make healthy choices when they grow up. The question for today is — how can we strengthen this practice of healthy eating habits?
Having meals together
Having meals together as a family helps children develop a family spirit. Dinnertime is generally when all family members are present. Make dinner a special event everyday. Children learn etiquettes quickly when all have meals together. You also get a chance to show your child how to eat right. You will notice that picky eaters eat more when they eat with all.
I still remember how much I enjoyed the family dinner every night. Many of my childhood memories with my parents and siblings are around the dining table.
Heads up before the meal
Kids are often “very” busy with something (or many things). It is a good idea to inform them about the impending food event that is about to take place in a few minutes. Let the child know that mealtime is fast approaching. Better yet, tell the child that in five (or, ten) minutes everyone is going to eat breakfast or lunch or dinner.
It might be helpful for some kids to have a little direction along with the heads up. Suggestions such as the kid should pack up the game or pause whatever s/he is doing, and wash hands to get ready for the mealtime would be helpful for kids. If the kid is not happy to leave the play, give her/him the option to resume playing once mealtime is over.
Wash hands before eating
It is a must to wash hands before meals. Children must wet their hands with running tap water and then apply soap. To save water, tell the child to turn off the tap while applying soap. Be sure to teach your child to lather both hands and backs of her/his hands, between the fingers, and under the nails.
Scrubbing hands for at least 20 seconds is essential to kill all germs and have clean hands, as suggested by CDC. The child should dry hands using a clean towel after washing.
Setup mealtime rules. It is your list of rules — you will set it up based on what you think is necessary. Some examples are (1) wash hands before any meal, (2) chew food well, (3) do not criticize the food served, (4) do not stand on the chair (yes, I had to include it in my list), and (5) do not make bad comments on what others are eating.
No TV, No gadgets during meals
To ease the pain of feeding children, many parents give smartphones to kids to keep them entertained during mealtimes. An earlier version of this is keeping the television turned on. Gadgets or televisions are great distractions — there is no doubt but the question is, distraction from what? Is it a distraction from the food? Is it a distraction so that children do not realize they are eating? If that is the case, we should never give a child gadgets during mealtimes because we want the child to be eating consciously with full attention and to make a connection with the food.
Without a conscious interaction with the food, a child cannot develop an understanding about different types of foods. Thus, the development of healthy choice is hindered due to the lack of that understanding. Let a child appreciate the mealtime, fully connect with the food, and enjoy meals consciously.
Maintain a schedule
Have meals around the same time everyday. A mealtime schedule helps the body function at its optimal level. Moreover, the child gets an idea of when the meal will be served and an understanding that her/his parents mean “business”. Yes, that authoritative style in maintaining a routine is necessary to develop your child’s positive eating habits.
Involve your child in meal planning
Involving children in meal planning — including shopping, meal preparation, cleaning raw food before cooking, serving food on the table — makes children enthusiastic about food. This involvement is for building a connection with the food and for developing a family culture around the meals. It is not about increasing the amount of food children consume. Even though it is not about how much food children consume, you will find that picky eaters eat more when they are involved in meal planning.
You will find how happy children become when they are allowed to help in food preparation. Well … allowing them to help will slow you down — this is a small price to pay for their longterm wellbeing. 🙂
Let young children touch the food
We have been allowing Dear Son (kindergartener now) to touch food since when he learned to grab anything. Since then he developed some good food habits. He loves vegetables and fruits. He loves to play with steamed broccoli pieces and eat them playfully. Mixed veggie is one of his favorites. We have taught Dear Son to use forks and spoons but there is NO rule that he must use them.
It has been reported that children who play with their food are more likely to make healthier choices when they grow up. We just hope that Dear Son will hold on to his healthy choices he has made so far as he grows up.
Offer a variety of foods from each food group
You are blessed if your child eats everything you offer without whining. No worries if you are not blessed — it is normal if your child likes to eat one food item more than another. Encourage to eat everything offered; familiarize them with a variety of food. That means, creating a meal plan for every week to offer a variety of healthy choices.
Familiarize your child with a variety of protein sources including seafood and beans. Yes, I know — the protein source is generally chicken. Beef is Dear Son’s favorite protein source but we cannot serve red meat everyday. We try to switch between chicken, bean, fish, shrimp, and beef throughout the week.
Making children familiar with the variety is crucial because they can make the healthy choice for themselves when they grow up if they are familiar with all kinds of food. If a child is only familiar with beef, the chances are low that he/she will move to fish later. Although chicken and beef were my favorites when I was a child, I slowly leaned toward seafood as I grew up. That is, whatever is a favorite food in childhood may not remain as the favorite as an adult. However, familiarity with the variety is what leads to making the right choice.
Limit sugar intake
Try to limit sweetened food for children. We rarely give juice boxes to Dear Son. The reason is — why give sweetened and processed juice while I can make a cup of orange juice in a few minutes?
Give the fruit juice to your child only during mealtime. It is not a good idea to drink fruit juice, which is a little acidic (especially the citrus ones), in an empty stomach. Make sure to have your child drink water after every meal. Water helps metabolize food. Additionally, it neutralizes the fruit juice left inside the mouth that sometimes causes tooth decay.
Food items with added sugar are special treats. There is no need to make candy a part of a regular diet. Regular consumption of sweet food does not bring any good to children, let alone adults.
Last but not the least — set an example to your child by showing how you make a healthy choice and how you practice positive eating habits.
A few months before my father passed away, I came to know from my mother that there were some food items that my father did not like to eat. As children, my siblings and I never knew that our dad disfavored some food. I do not know if I will ever be able to set an example at that level but at least I know what setting an example means.
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