Children definitely don't eat or exercise the same way adults eat and exercise. So, there are a few different approaches you can take in getting them to eat and enjoy healthy foods and activities. But remember, making a healthy lifestyle overhaul can seem like a huge undertaking, so start small. Try to set small goals and start a plan, changing one thing at a time and sticking with that change before adding another.
1. Eat and enjoy healthy foods and activity yourself.
Set an example and model the healthy behavior your want your kids to have. Research shows this is the most powerful way to motivate your child to be an adventurous eater who will try new foods and activities and like them. And if you're not an adventurous eater who likes healthy foods? Try to become one. This involves keeping an open mind, serving new foods such as fruits, vegetables and fish, and trying at least one bite. And don't forget to refrain from making unpleasant faces and comments to influence your child's (or spouse's) reactions. Repeat this with particular foods at least ten times-sometimes it takes that long, or longer, to come around. But it's worth it in the long run if your children learn to love healthy foods for a lifetime.
2. Eat at least one meal a day at the table with your children.
Studies have shown children in families who eat meals together eat more fruits and vegetables, less fat and fewer snack foods than children who eat separately from parents. These kids may even do better in school. So, turn the television off and enjoy each other as you sit down to a meal. It doesn't have to be a fancy meal, but the ritual of simply sitting down to share a selection of healthful foods, in reasonable portions, with nurturing conversation is invaluable. But whether you are able to eat together or not, it's a good idea to designate the kitchen or dining room as the only place to eat meals and even snacks in order to curb mindless munching.
3. Involve your kids in the meal planning and preparation.
Give up some control and let your child choose the theme for the meal, help with the shopping and help with cooking the healthy meal. Children are more likely to eat healthy meals that they've had a hand in preparing. Occasionally let them invite a friend to share in their special meal. Provide them with their own special apron if they want to feel like a star in the kitchen.
4. Get creative and make healthy eating fun.
If it makes your child happy and willing to eat the healthy food you have packed, the extra 20 seconds it takes are worth it. Here are some tips to cute things up for your kids' meals:
- Get cute with the lunchbox by using crafts supplies and picking out fun reusable containers. Try a Japanese-inspired bento box with built-in, small sections for foods. Or let your child pick out his or her own traditional lunch box or bag and then use multiple small containers with different shapes, colors or cartoon characters to add interest along with a variety of small portions of healthy foods.
- Use fun toothpicks to present food in a unique and more interesting way. Make fruit or veggie kabobs. Or instead of a sandwich, wrap pieces of lean turkey and low-fat cheese cubes on a couple of colorful toothpicks. Or make turkey roll-ups with whole-wheat tortillas, slice and spear with a toothpick.
- Change up the utensils. Try using colorful forks and spoons. For even more adventure, try providing chopsticks or chopstick trainers (that are attached at the top to teach kids how to use chopsticks)-and not just for Asian foods.
- Shapes matter! Add a smile to their day by cutting food, such as a sandwiches or low-fat cheeses, into shapes with a cookie cutter.
- Include special non-food items such as a holiday theme napkin (make it cloth to be good to the planet), a flower, a note from you, or stickers to make lunch interesting, fun and full of love. And they're calorie free!
5. Don't keep tempting foods in the house.
If junk food or soda is not in the house, then neither you nor your children will eat it. And you won't be tempted to pick at your children's treats or even their leftovers. Make treats and soda something you only have on special occasions.
6. Promote some independence with easily-accessible fruits and vegetables.
Keep a selection of ready-to-eat vegetables or yogurt in the refrigerator. Fill a bowl with fruit and leave it on the counter. Buy fruit cups packed in juice and natural applesauce without added sugar and store it in easily accessible cabinets.
7. Start a new family tradition: exercise.
Walk the neighborhood (with the dog if you have one) every day as a family. Go for a bike ride. Join a basketball league together. Plan a family hike on the weekend. Use a family outdoor activity as a reward for good behavior. Try to find activities that you enjoy and then get the whole family involved.
8. Make time for yourself.
Schedule a weekly exercise class or find time to attend a healthy cooking class. Make time to get to the doctor for your annual checkups. And if you just can't find the time, go for a walk around the field during your child's soccer practice or take a jog during halftime at your child's football game. Remember, your kids will learn their eating and exercising habits from you, so make sure you are teaching healthy routines.
9. Get help from health professionals, if needed.
Nutrition counseling from a registered dietitian that provides information and focuses on behavior change can be a great place to start. Or if you've run out of ideas, nutrition counseling can help you continue to make progress on the path to a healthier lifestyle for your child and yourself.