August is Kids Eat Right Month™, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Academy Foundation’s chance to highlight the fight for our children’s healthy future. Eating habits are learned by what children are served and what those around them eat as well. Parents can have a big impact by being healthy role models so their kids can grow up learning to eat smart. Here are some ways you can raise healthy eaters.
Division of Responsibility
Parents and kids have different jobs when it comes to eating. Parents are responsible for when, where, and what is served. In other words, you plan healthy meals and snacks that feature foods from MyPlate at a set time and place (ideally the dining room table away from distractions). Kids are responsible for how much (if any) they choose to eat from what you have served. This is a big change from how most parents feed their kids, but it’s worth it and can even be easier for parents once they are comfortable. No more short-order cooks, just one healthy meal for the whole family to enjoy. This method helps kids learn to listen to their bodies, eat until they feel full (not when the plate is clean), and develop a taste for a variety of foods.
Teach Cooking Skills
Cooking more meals at home is an important part of eating smart. To make sure your children are prepared to feed themselves healthy foods when they move out, they need to learn to cook. You can start teaching kids to cook at a young age and help them develop more advanced skills over time. This chart is a great resource for getting started.
Try New Fruits and Veggies
Did you know that it can take up to 12 times before kids learn to enjoy new foods? So don’t give up! There are a few tricks that can help speed things up. Let them choose a new fruit or vegetable at the store to try. Invite them into the kitchen to help prepare fruits or veggies. These both give kids ownership over the decision to taste new fruits and veggies so they’ll be less resistant.
Treat serving new foods as an experiment. Talk to your child about the color, smell, texture, and flavor. Encourage them to try just one bite to see what they think – no pressure to eat more if they don’t want to. If they’re not interested, remember they’re just acting on their responsibility to decide how much, if any, food to eat. Give a few weeks and serve it again in a new way.
Be a Good Role Model
How many times has “Do as I say, not as I do” worked for you as a parent? If we want kids to eat smart and move more, then we need to show them that it’s enjoyable and beneficial. Focus on practicing your own healthy habits and your kids will notice. Have a toddler who always wants a bite of what you’re eating? Then be sure to be eating your fruits and veggies! Have a stressed-out teenager? Invite them to go to yoga class or on a long walk with you and experience the calmness that can bring.
How do you model a healthy lifestyle for your family? What skills are you sharing with your kids to help them grow into adults who eat smart and move more? What area of nutrition or exercise do you want to work on to help your kids learn better habits? We’d love to hear from you!