Fun ways to help your kids eat healthily & develop a healthy relationship with food

It is no secret that most parents make sure their kids get enough sleep on a school night, wear a coat in the winter so they don't get sick and shower at least a couple of times a week to rinse of the grime that kids can often drag home.  But when it comes to being sure the kids eat healthily, many parents often throw in the towel way too soon.  What is it about eating healthy that scares parents away from a potential food fight? It can be difficult, but the truth is, when handled correctly it doesn't need to be a fight at all.  

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Getting your whole family onboard to eating healthy may sound like a daunting task, but in reality it doesn't have to be.  Start by focusing on the many benefits your family will have by leading a healthy lifestyle.  By recognizing how much better it will be for your family to be eating healthier foods, feeling energized, boosting their immune systems and all be following the same diet regimen, you can begin to see its value.  Imagine how nice it would be to have your children ask for another helping of broccoli, drink up a full glass of milk, carry a water bottle to school to stay hydrated and eat their veggies with a smile on their face.   Take a look at some simple strategies to get your family onboard to a healthy lifestyle. 

No Such Thing As A Kids Menu -  Somehow many families have fallen victim to thinking that adults and kids should be served different meals.  After all, most restaurants bombard us with a kids menu once we sit down to dine. It's typically a menu full of foods like chicken fingers, grilled cheese, spaghetti in butter sauce and other fried and unhealthy fare.  Despite the temptation of serving this to your children, while dining out or at home, it is important to remember your kid's taste buds will be just as satisfied with healthy food as well. Expose your kids to the same foods you are eating and they too will enjoy this just as much.  It is just as easy to make healthy food appear kid-friendly by serving it with dips, cut into shapes and served on fun dishes as well. 

Grow A Taste Bud - You tried to get your youngest daughter to eat zucchini at dinner last week and she clearly she didn't like it.  And you sort of remember that she didn’t like it once while at her grandma’s house, so why even bother to offer it anymore.  Sound familiar? Many parents give up on trying to get their kids to eat healthy once their kids have turned their noses up once or twice before.  Well, maybe it is time for a new strategy! When making an effort to get your kids, or yourself for that matter, to like a new food it is important to understand how to “grow” or open a new taste bud.  To help your tastebuds to learn to enjoy a new food it is important to try it at least 10 times over a 12 day period.  Studies show that the repetition over a short time period will allow your mouth to learn to like and perhaps even love that once unfamiliar food. 

Related: What should you eat before you workout? Healthy pre-work out snack ideas

Model It - This is one of the most important lessons in getting your kids on board in eating healthy.  If it is good enough for them, it certainly is good enough for you. And this includes everyone in your family, from your pre-schoolers to your teens, to you.  Show your kids by leading by example.  This means that when you are serving up a meal or putting out snacks, they see that you too are indulging in the same food choices.  By sharing in this together you can both share the same benefits of the delicious tastes and health benefits that go along with it.

A Family That Cooks Together -  Flip through any television channel or social media platform today and there is no doubt that you will stumble upon some type of cooking show or photo of food.  From amateurs to professionals and adults to kids, everyone is getting in on the action.  Maybe it's time for you to try to have your family enjoy cooking together.  Involve your children in picking out new recipes, food shopping and spending time cooking and baking as a family.  Focus on healthy foods that everyone will enjoy!

Food Facts - Quite often kids tune adults out when they hear the same message over and over.  They often don’t care at age 10 about what their bones will be like at 30 or if their heart is healthy when they feel just fine during their soccer game.  So what is one to do?  Instead of reminding them how healthy or unhealthy their food choices are, maybe take a different approach.  Why not instead talk about healthy facts that will be relevant to them.  Perhaps your son would love to know that by having chocolate milk after the gym he will maximize the benefits of his workout.  Or maybe your 4th grader will be excited to dive into a bowl of blueberries when she learns that they have been shown to make you smarter, especially if you offer them to her on the day of the math test.  

Doing some research on what foods will empower your kids, while at the same time get them to eat healthier, might be your best bet yet!

M Mittler, MS, Registered Dietitian

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