It probably goes without saying that you, as a parent, play a major role in the habits your child develops. From sleeping to hygiene, what we enforce or model for our kids is what they use as their foundation and what they come to think of as normal. When it comes to eating habits, what kind of “normal” are you setting the stage for?
Let’s talk about 2 of the most important things to focus on when developing healthy eating habits in your kids.
- Their Environment. Whether your kids spend most of their day at home, school, or with a daycare provider, their environment has a big impact on their eating habits.
What can you do? Here are a few things to consider:
Focus on family meals.
- Make a commitment to having at least one or two meals together as a family. For busy, working families that may mean breakfast and dinner, or maybe just dinner. Children who eat meals with their family tend to make healthier choices such as more fruits and veggies.
- If your child is away from home during meal times, consider packing them healthy meals or snacks. Every day, kids are exposed to a lot of food and drink options or advertisements that are loaded with chemicals, preservatives, and sweeteners. All of which can have an impact on their growth, development, and behavior.
Avoid distracted eating.
- Eating in front of a TV, computer, tablet, or phone leads to poorer food choices and a higher chance of overeating. Make a family agreement to shut off all screens during meal and snack times and focus on connecting through conversation.
Have healthy options available.
- Kids can’t eat fruits and veggies if they aren’t in the house. Get them involved and excited to eat these options by: letting them pick out produce at a farmer’s market, selecting a new item to try for the week, helping to prepare the food, and/or having cut up fruits and veggies at their eye level either on the counter or in the fridge ready to grab.
As our kids get older, we have less of a say in what they eat, especially when they are out of the house for most of the day. Don’t be afraid to ask their caregivers about the meals and snacks provided and teach your kids to balance their options by adding a veggie, protein, and healthy fat source!
2. Their Role Models. Parents and caregivers have arguably the biggest impact on how their kids will eat. The good news is, you don’t have to have perfect eating habits to raise a healthy eater!
What can you do?
Avoid using food as a reward.
- of us grew up going for ice cream after a good grade or being rewarded with candy by a teacher for good behavior. As a parent, try to avoid using food as a reward or punishment and simply focus on enforcing food as the way to nourish our body.
Be conscious of comments.
- Refusing certain foods because “I’m on a diet”, or commenting on the amount of food someone eats sends subtle messaging to your kids. Unless your child has an allergy, consider teaching them that no foods are off limits and allow them to serve themselves so they get to know their own hunger and full cues in relationship to portion sizes. Teaching a balanced approach to eating will help them learn that food is truly fuel and having treats occasionally is ok!
Focus on your own healthy habits.
- What you eat sets the example of what your kids will eat. If veggies are served with each meal, your child will consider this normal and be more likely to continue the habit of eating veggies. If you skip breakfast every day, your child will likely do this eventually as well. Even actions like stress eating or eating fast can be observed and learned by our children.
And remember, a habit only forms when an action is repeated. Having fast food every now and then when you are traveling doesn’t create a habit. Having it every Tuesday and Thursday before soccer practice, is more of a habit. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve all been there where we are running late to an activity and need to grab something quick. If you feel some of those occurrences have formed into a habit, don’t worry! Just focus on one habit at a time and brainstorm alternatives that you can do instead.
If you are concerned or wanting to focus on your own food habits or emotional eating tendencies, we’d love to have you in the next Food Habit Reset group that starts soon! This 4-week program walks you through how to release old thoughts and habits around food and replace them with healthier habits that align with your health goals. Join the waitlist HERE and be notified when it starts!