Lately, it seems many of my clients have been asking me the same question in various forms. They all want to know how they can get their family (specifically, their children) to eat healthier – not so much what they should be eating to get healthier as most people have a general idea of what they should be eating, but how to convince their kids to eat more healthy. As they say, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink – so goes for kids and health food. What’s a concerned mom or dad to do?
Here are a few ideas on how to encourage your family to eat healthier.
1. Have a better variety of healthy food such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and low fat dairy in the house than non- healthy food such as chips, candy and baked goods.
This is my number one tip! Variety is the spice of life and since most people tire of the same foods, increased variety means you eat more. This is true for healthy and for not so healthy food. You should have one type of less than healthy snack available, otherwise your child will be the one that overdoes it at the next birthday party or play-date. Post party belly ache, not good. You can’t completely control your child’s every move, sigh, it’s better for them to learn how to control their eating themselves and that can’t happen if they never have access to some “junk food”. I know what you are thinking, a dietitian that promotes junk food, ludicrous! I am not promoting junk food, rather explaining that if they have a large variety of healthy food and a very limited variety of not so healthy food, your child will make healthy choices most of the time and will learn to honor their body and fullness without any nagging from you. Note: If your child has never had access to junk food at home, and you bring it into the house, expect a “honeymoon” phase where they will eat large quantities for a day or two before they tire of it.
2. Get kids involved with the planning, shopping, prepping and cooking of food.
It can be tough to rely on one person to decide what to make for dinner every night. This person can begin to resent the job and end up calling for take out a few nights a week. Divide the “what’s for dinner” job between all family members. Feel free to set up some ground rules such as, dinner must include a protein and either 2 fruit servings or 2 vegetable servings or some combo of fruit and vegetable. Once the ground rules are set, go online with your kids and research some new recipe ideas. Maybe try a mexican or asian dish if you normally do take out for these. Pretty much anything you make at home will be healthier than take out, so go ahead and “splurge” on homemade beef with broccoli and snow peas served over brown rice.
3. Don’t make food the center of every family event.
Sure, family dinners out at a restaurant can seem special, but I’ll bet if you give the kids a choice between eating out or checking out a new playground, the kids would most likely pick the playground. So, instead of eating out, plan on doing something else as a family such as a hike or a kickball game, pack a few sandwiches and some fruit and eat your dinner at the park. The family will consume fewer calories while expending more calories running around. You’ll save money too.
When eating dinner at home, if you spend the entire dinner prodding, pleading and cajoling your child to eat their spinach, you are taking the emphasis away from a pleasant family experience and placing too much emphasis on the food. Your child may eat the spinach because you are “forcing” them to and ultimately they want to please you, but they will never learn to like spinach on their own in this manner and will likely connect spinach with negative feelings for the rest of their lives.
Here’s another tip: If you do a family game night, make the game something active such as a family game of tag in the yard. Kids love the old fashioned games we used to play when we were kids such as follow the leader and ghost in the graveyard. Family time is important, but when weather permits, make family time, active family time – everyone wins!
Raising healthy families is tough these days! Between busy schedules, the high cost of food, limited funds and an endless supply of messages from the big food companies, parents may, understandably, feel overwhelmed. Working with a dietitian can help put your family on the right track, we can help your family begin to eat healthier and save your family time and money in the long run.