Does your child have unhealthy eating habits? Here’s what you can do to help your child break them.
WORDS NURULHUDA SUHAIMI
Parents play an important role in helping children form healthy eating habits. If your child has bad food habits such as eating too much junk food or not wanting to eat his fruits and vegetables, it is not too late to help him break those habits. Here are some strategies you can try:
It Starts with You
You probably already know that children often imitate their parents, which means you need to set a good example your child will follow to help him develop healthy eating habits. You can’t expect your child to eat his fruits and vegetables during his meal times if you don’t do the same.
During family meal times, show your child that you’re also eating your vegetables and – this is vital – let him know you’re enjoying eating them. You can make comments such as “This broccoli is yummy!” or “Isn’t this tomato really sweet and juicy?” When your child sees you enjoying your food, he will have positive associations with food and will be more open to trying them.
Make Food Fun
Young children are naturally attracted to colourful or attractive things, and this applies to food too. Incorporating foods that are brightly coloured or creating your child’s meals in attractive presentations will make it more likely for your child to eat his food. As advised by Vanessa McNamara, lead dietitian at The Travelling Dietitian, “Try to make healthy food fun and more appealing. This may mean making funny shapes out of fruit and vegetables, adding a sauce or dip that may give it more flavour, or giving them funny names, or making stories about them.”
Eat as a Family
Bridget Marr, specialist dietitian and nutritionist at Nutritional Solutions, emphasises the importance of prioritising family meals. Eating as a family offers you the opportunity to prepare healthier dishes for the whole family. When your child sees the rest of the family eating healthy, he will be more likely to do the same.
Make sure that your family meals are an enjoyable time for everyone too.
Remove any distractions and have positive conversations with each other. Don’t rush the meals
either – this is a time for the family to spend quality time with each other.
When you make family meals a happy occasion, your child will look forward to them, which might make him more responsive to eating healthier foods.
Let the Kids Contribute
“Get your children involved in the planning, shopping and preparation of healthy meals and snacks so that they have a sense of ownership of the meal,” advises McNamara. You can do this by bringing your child along when you go grocery shopping. Show your child all of the different healthy food options available, and let him decide which ones he would like to have in his meals and snacks.
When you’re back home, you can get your child to help you prepare his meals and snacks. Make sure you have utensils that are safe for your child to use and let him have a go at preparing his own food. Being able to decide on what goes into his food as well as preparing it will make it more likely for your child to eat healthier.
Make Fruits and Vegetables the Norm
McNamara recommends including fruits and vegetables in every meal and snack for your child. Even if your child doesn’t eat them – which McNamara ensures is fine – always offer them to your child during his meals. This shows your child that these foods are vital components of a healthy and balanced diet. When you make fruits and vegetables a regular part of your child’s meals, he will eventually come to expect them and be more open towards eating them.
Reduce Intake of Sweetened Beverages
Sweetened beverages such as sodas and energy drinks offer zero nutritional benefits to children as they only contain empty calories, so try to limit your child’s intake of these drinks.
Furthermore, drinking too much of sweetened beverages can also make your child less likely to eat his meals. “It is easy for kids to fill up on sweetened drinks such as canned drinks, Milo and juices, which reduce appetite at meal times,” says Marr. Thus, there is less opportunity for you to encourage your child to consume healthier foods when he isn’t hungry when his meal time comes.
If your child has a habit of drinking sweetened beverages frequently, try to replace
them with healthier options such as plain water, low-fat milk or fresh fruit juice.
If your child is resistant towards these substitutes, you can try
watering down his sweetened beverages gradually to allow your child
to get used to the natural taste of unsweetened drinks.
Don’t Label Foods as Good or Bad
According to McNamara, instead of labelling foods as “good” or “bad”, you should categorise them to your child as “everyday” or “sometimes” food. Labelling a particular food, such as junk food or fast food, as “bad” will only make it more desirable to your child.
Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is also not about avoiding unhealthy foods completely – it is about moderation. It is fine for your child to eat sugary snacks or fast food once in a while. Not letting your child eat these foods will only make him want to eat them even more.
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