Is your child a fussy or unhealthy eater?
What does it mean to be an unhealthy eater? We, as moms and caretakers, know what a healthy lunch looks like. Our kids need choices that are diverse, fresh and appetizing, high in protein, vegetables, fruit and fibre, but low in fat, salt and sugar. That’s the easy part. The hard part is how to get them to eat it!
One answer is options.
Giving your child numerous options in his lunch means that he’s more likely to get a well-rounded meal. Offer grapes and raspberries, cheese and a sandwich. At our house, what doesn’t get eaten at lunch becomes his afternoon snack. Treats are offered after the entire lunch is consumed.
Let them help.
Kids control so little in their lives. When they get the chance to participate in choosing, assembling, and packing their own lunch, they gain a measure of control, and when they do that, we all benefit. Offer options, and let your child choose the components in meals (not just at lunch time!). “Do you want a nectarine or an apple for your fruit?” Asking the child to choose will encourage her to eat what she’s chosen. “Would you like a wrap or a sandwich?” When she feels some amount of control, she’ll also want to follow through. Goodbye, unhealthy eater!
All mixed up.
Preschoolers typically go through a phase where they do not want their food to touch. So separate it for them, and they’ll soon outgrow it. For the longest time, our kids ate macaroni and cheese with peas mixed in. Then, suddenly, they wouldn’t eat it that way. Yet they would eat macaroni and cheese with peas on the side. When we figured it out, they happily ate their meals.
Don’t use food as a reward.
Telling your preschool child or kindergartner that she’ll get a lollipop if she cleans up her mess is setting her up for problems. Offering treats like candy, chips, or soda for good behavior actually interferes with a child’s natural ability to regulate her eating. Kids intuitively know when they’re hungry or thirsty, and giving them salty or sugary rewards teaches them to eat when they’re not hungry and to reward themselves with food.
Kids need to eat every three to four hours, so schedule breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two to three snacks every day. Fluids are very important, too, so keep plenty of water on hand. A cooler in the car with healthy snacks and bottled water is a terrific idea for staving off the “grumpies” because they’re hungry.
Don’t say it.
It’s tempting to say to your daughter, “Eat your vegetables.” But don’t. She’ll resist it more if you nag. It’s your responsibility to prepare nutritious foods, but it’s her responsibility to eat it. It’s hard, but don’t be the food police and try to enforce how much or what she eats during meals.
Make it a family affair.
Don’t be a short-order cook. Planning and preparing three balanced meals for your family every day should be enough. Don’t get in the habit of making different meals for different members of the family. Fix one meal and have everyone sit down together to eat. Children mimic their parents, so eventually, they’ll eat what you do.
Keep healthy food on hand.
If there isn’t junk food around, your child will choose healthy alternatives when he’s hungry. Replace chips and cookies with fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and whole grains so that there’s a good choice when hunger strikes. Healthy choices guarantees your child won’t be an unhealthy eater.
Model healthy behavior.
Lots of studies prove that kids follow their parents’ behavior. So when you choose healthy foods to eat, they will follow suit. Talking about healthy habits is important, too; but don’t say “you should.” Instead say “here’s what I do.” If they see you enjoying good-for-you food, they’ll be much more likely to do as you do.