One of the biggest challenges for modern moms is figuring out how to raise healthy eaters without making mealtime a battleground.
Rest assured, this task is easier than you think.
Here are five strategies that will help you instill healthy eating habits in your kids without making them obsessive, causing a backlash, or creating miserable family mealtimes.
Relax. Kids can tell when their parents are anxious, and it may make them anxious too. If you’re worried about your child’s nutritional status, keep this in mind: A day or a week of less-than-ideal eating is not a huge deal in the scheme of life. Yes, you should keep trying to introduce and encourage healthy foods, but think of this as a “big picture” goal rather than a meal-by-meal goal, so you can experience more success and less stress.
Don’t make food a big deal. It’s not worth it. Both you and your child want mealtime to be a positive experience, and if you fight about what, when, or how much she eats every time food appears, it will be hard for her to develop a healthy relationship with food. All kids go through phases in their food tastes and appetites, and if you give them some power over what they eat, they will feel more of a sense of control over their bodies.
Appeal to kid tastes. Most kids don’t jump at the idea of plain steamed veggies or mixed veggie casseroles (and let’s be honest, neither do most adults). But crunchy veggies with dip? Lightly cooked veggies with cheese sauce? Make-your-own shredded veggie salads? That’s more like it! Make foods with the types of tastes and textures your kids already prefer and you’ll save yourself a lot of wasted effort.
Avoid using foods as rewards or punishments. The days of saying “if you eat all of ___ , you can have dessert” are over. Using treats as a reward for eating “healthy” food does not paint healthy foods in a favorable light or promote a good relationship with food. Think of non-food ways to reward your child when she does something good, and try to avoid making her eat something she doesn’t want to as means of “earning” something else.
Decide on a Dessert Policy. Many families find dessert time challenging. Prevent arguments by picking a few specific “dessert nights” each week (on pre-determined days) where everyone gets a treat regardless of what they ate for dinner. And remember, what “dessert” means is up to you – so stock up on things you want your kids eating, like frozen yogurt with berries, smoothies, or little handfuls of chocolate pieces and nuts. You get to decide what a treat is.
If these tips are far from what you’re currently doing, don’t worry. Just start making one small change at a time. Once that change has become second nature, you can begin to work on another strategy. Before long, you’ll have made significant improvements without much trouble.