As we get ready to greet spring and head into summer, it's a great time to establish or reestablish some healthy food habits for your family. More and more local produce will be available in the coming weeks, including kid-friendly powerhouses like berries. Yum!
Helping your child establish healthy eating habits early on is critical for their well-being throughout their lives. Research shows that children as young as one year old are starting to pick up unhealthy eating habits as parents are quick to hand over french fries, sweets, and other poor food choices. Offering these foods so young can start kids on a lifelong road of physical and even mental health problems.
Across the board, Americans of all ages consume too few fruits and vegetables, too little water, and far too much added sugar and sodium. There are many factors that go into these problematic habits, and each one could deserve its own blog post. But one of the biggest factors is early eating habits in children.
What About Picky Eaters?
We often hear from parents that their kids are just "too picky." Parents believe that if they don't offer the processed foods their children like, they just won't eat. As parents start to feel frustrated, food and eating habits quickly can become a power struggle between parents and children, potentially setting up lifelong food issues for the kids.
So, how do you help establish healthy eating habits right from the beginning? First, let's take a brief look at the amazing tongue. Your child's tongue has roughly 10,000 taste buds. Isn't that incredible? And even more interesting is that they are replaced about every two weeks. So that means that something your child didn't like the first time they tried it, may taste good to them in a few weeks. The key is to keep offering healthy food choices, calmly and without pressure or stress, even if your child has refused a food in the past.
Remove the Mealtime Stress
Katharine Jeffcoat of Portland Pediatric and Family Nutrition offers this advice: "When it comes to preventing picky eating, take away the anxiety at the meal. Anxiety causes the fight or flight response, increasing adrenaline in the child's body. This zaps your child's appetite, and they won't be hungry. Avoid putting pressure on your child at the dinner table to try everything. Pressure creates anxiety. Allow your child to choose to eat from whatever you have served, and let them be the one to decide how much. Include a few items that you know they like and that are familiar, along with new foods."
Following this advice can be tricky for many parents who were raised in the "clean your plate" era of child-rearing. But the goal here is to allow meals to be stress-free so that children feel calm enough to eat and to try new foods. Ultimately, the aim is to give kids the opportunity to develop a healthy relationship with food and meals so that they can avoid developing eating disorders and physical disorders later in life.
Healthy Recipe Ideas
Our very own Little Lambs parent and awesome health food guru, Jamie Bischoff, has this to share:
What I know is this. You have to offer healthy choices every single day or they may never want to try them. Put fruits and veggies in front of them daily, at every meal and snack if you can. The more exposures, the better. If you get creative and make it fun, your odds of them trying new things might go up. Here are some ideas and recipes to try:
- I love to do snack boards or muffin trays full of colorful, healthy and yummy choices. Include some of their favorites, but also new things.
- Make it fun. Cut food into shapes. Decorate apple slices like you’re icing a cookie (nut butter, coconut flakes, chocolate chips, etc). Do a smoothie bowl full of sneaky green veggies and let them pick their toppings - just like at the frozen yogurt shop.
- Try these delicious green smoothie muffins that are jam packed with nutrients.
- Load your kids up with protein with this incredible green pesto dip.
One way to encourage healthy eating habits in young children is by asking them to eat a rainbow...of food colors! Keeping a chart of all the different colors of food your child is willing to try can motivate them to be a little more adventurous in their eating.
Parenting is hard. And trying to meet all the needs of your growing child can feel daunting at times. So yes, sometimes they’re going to have chicken nuggets for dinner and ice cream for dessert...and that’s fine! But any steps you take now to help your children make healthy choices will have lifelong benefits. Be patient with yourself and with your child. Keep offering good options at snack and mealtimes, but try to let the stress and anxiety go. You’ve got this!