Parents and caregivers play an important role when it comes to children’s eating habits. March is National Nutrition Month. Research shows that children who eat a well-balanced diet and exercise regularly are likely to perform better in school, feel better about themselves, cope with stress effectively and better regulate their emotions. They also have higher self-esteem and are less prone to developing anxiety and depression. Additionally, establishing healthy eating habits early in life can lead to long term healthy behaviors in adulthood.
Here are some tips to help you guide your children in developing life-long healthy eating behaviors.
Start early. Parents and caregivers who help children establish good eating and sleeping habits early in life will avoid having to break bad habits later. Exposing children to a variety of flavors and different foods can not only help children accept healthy foods but to possibly prefer them. If kids don’t like a certain food, don’t force it. But give it another try in 3-4 months.
Make healthy eating easy. Research shows that daily environments like home, school and work can affect habits. Children generally tend to choose foods that are familiar, easily available and ready to be eaten. Parents and caregivers can encourage kids to eat healthier by keeping healthy foods in the house and pack kids’ lunch boxes with nutritious snacks like carrots, apples or nuts instead of chips or cookies. You might be very pleasantly surprised to see your kids helping themselves when you simply leave a plate of sliced cucumbers and carrots on the counter with no instructions about whether or not to eat them.
Set a good example. Children who see their parents or caregivers buying and eating healthy foods are more likely to eat wholesome foods themselves. Healthy eating doesn’t need to be a trick. Instead, teach children to look at healthy foods as tasty and desirable. Try involving kids in planning, shopping and cooking meals to make it fun. Watching cooking shows together is lots of fun and encourages kids to try new foods.
Rewards and treats. Many parents like to treat their children with special foods for a job well done. While everyone enjoys certain treats, try to reward children, and yourself) with things other than desserts or candy. Instead, consider a family outing or the chance to skip a chore or other non-food related rewards on some occasions.
Have meals as a family. Research shows that social support has a direct impact on healthy eating intentions. Family meals are not only a good opportunity for families to connect, but are also the perfect time to talk about healthy eating habits and engage children in conversations about what consists of a nutritious meal.
Be aware of kids’ emotions. Support is essential when working with children to improve nutrition, especially when that path can be difficult and frustrating. Pay close attention to children’s emotions and reassure them that changes in diet are to make them healthy, and not because there is something wrong with them.
To learn more about mind/body health, visit the American Psychological Association at www.apa.org/helpcenter and follow @APAHelpCenter.