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From “picky eaters” to snack-loving teens, what and how kids eat plays a significant role in their health and happiness.
If you're not already doing so, disguising veggies into fun 'kid foods' is a great way to get them eating better. "Vegetables are a great source of nutrients," confirms Rebecca Davis, MD of Family Medicine and Pediatrics at SCL Health Broomfield, CO, "They contain vitamins and minerals that our growing bodies and minds need."
Here are five tips for parents at mealtime and beyond.
Avoid labeling food as “good” or “bad”
A healthy relationship with food doesn't feel restrictive. And categorizing foods with labels like junk food or unhealthy, can give them a forbidden allure, causing kids to over-indulge when given the opportunity.
Instead, it can be helpful to use language like always vs sometimes foods as a way to learn balance. Always foods might refer to fruits and vegetables, while ice cream and cookies sometimes would be.
Prep, cook and enjoy together
Why save the best for last when it can all be great? There's more to food than just the eating part. Kids tend to naturally grow curious about various foods when they're involved in meal planning, shopping, and preparing the food.
Meal prepping is an excellent way to show kids essential skills and rules in the kitchen while introducing them to a host of new flavors, colors, and aromas. Broadening the range of options they like can do wonders for a healthy relationship with food at any age.
Avoid food as the primary reward or punishment
It's tempting for parents to bribe their kids with treats and sweets to reward good behavior. But assigning emotional stakes to food as a reward, celebration, or consequence can lead to unhelpful eating habits and overindulgence.
Build food routines and healthy habits
Early childhood mealtime habits often stay with kids well into adulthood. Maybe breakfast should always include vegetables, or perhaps a glass of water should be mandatory before every meal. Healthy habits can become a family tradition.
Establishing consistent food and ingredient habits can help reduce snacking and give your kids an idea of what's coming. For instance, once they know sweets are reserved for Friday's dessert, they'll tend not to ask about them so constantly.
Show don’t tell with food
As with most parenting topics, modeling healthy behavior for your kids is often the best policy. Strive to eat regular meals and snacks, listen to your own needs when hungry, and let go of previous ways of thinking about food that doesn't bring peace and balance.
Dr. Davis adds, "Smoothies are a great way to incorporate veggies and fruits into your child's diet. Incorporate kale or spinach, and call it a 'Monster' or 'Shrek Smoothie.' You can also blend up vegetables and mix them into spaghetti sauce." Remember, it's our parental duty to get our kids to eat right, and you can do it.