Raising a healthy eater isn’t always easy. Many parents can attest to battles over meals with a picky eater. Like any habit, healthy eating has to be conditioned – repeated over and over until it becomes part of the daily routine. Although strategies to promote nutritious choices aren’t set in stone, and their success depends on the given situation and the idiosyncrasies of each individual child, it doesn’t hurt to have a battle plan.
By engaging your child and making healthy eating fun, you increase your chances of success. Below are some activity ideas that may spark your child’s interest in nutritious foods.
Food Play – Skip the “Don’t Play with your Food” rule. Children learn by manipulating objects. Allow your child to explore the different tastes, textures, and smells that various foods have through play.
- Let your child become a “food artist” by giving him yogurt, applesauce, and/or pureed fruits and vegetables to use as “edible” finger paint. Apple and pear halves can be used as “stamps” to make neat designs in these “edible” paintings.
- Make edible play dough out of peanut butter (or soy nut and/or seed butters if allergies are present) and have your child use his imagination to mold various creations. He can eat them when he is done.
- “Build it and they will eat it.” A healthy take on the gingerbread house concept, give your child whole-grain crackers, dried fruit, small pieces of fresh fruit and vegetables, seeds, nuts, etc., and peanut butter or cream cheese (used as the “glue”) to construct a house.
Food Time is Family Time – Food is deemed comfort food when good times from the past have become associated with it. Help your child develop positive associations with healthy food by spending quality family time together planning, preparing, and eating the meal.
- Give your child cookbooks and/or recipe cards to look through and find something that looks good or sounds appealing. Then discuss as a family if you will use all of the ingredients in the recipe or if you need to make changes to meet everyone’s personal likes and/or nutritional needs (e.g., replace whole eggs for egg whites, etc.,).
- Take your child with you to the grocery store or farmer’s market to help you pick out and purchase ingredients for the meals of the week. Many kids like the job of picking out the produce from its bin and placing it in the bag.
- Have your child help you make the meal. Older kids can measure and pour. Younger kids can wash and rinse produce, as well as, stir the ingredients.
Grow your own Edible Garden – Growing a family garden is a very rewarding experience. Children take great pride when they can reap the benefits of their efforts. Let your child have a say in what will be grown. You can even designate a plant or two as their own of which they are responsible for watering and picking when ripe.
An important factor to raising a healthy eater is to develop positive associations with healthy food. Make proper nutrition part of family time and have fun doing it. I would like to leave you with this response from my 10 1/2 year-old son when I asked him what lessons he felt I taught him about nutritious eating. He said, “It isn’t so much lessons that were learned as it is a lifestyle that was taught.” Healthy eating is a way of life that can be associated positive emotions when you actively engage your child in the process in a fun and nurturing way.
Do you have any tips on how to raise a healthy eater? Share with us, we want to know!