Written by: Megan Sheley, Nutrition Coach
Children love to be involved in almost everything their parents do, whether that’s folding laundry, helping with a younger sibling, going to the grocery store, or cooking in the kitchen. It seems as though they’re always willing to help — which can be adorable and frustrating at the same time. Yet these moments represent powerful learning opportunities. When it comes to teaching kids healthy eating habits, take advantage of their natural curiosity and guide them with these four strategies.
1. Have them help with grocery shopping.
Bringing kids to the grocery store is no task for the impatient. But showing children how you shop for healthy and colorful foods is a great way to get them engaged in the process of creating healthy meals. (And the mini shopping carts available in many markets make it fun right off the bat — kids instantly feel like they’re helping out.) Before going to the store, create a kid-friendly grocery list and let them check items off the list — this can make shopping feel like a game.
2. Find safe ways for them to assist in the kitchen.
Kids love being a part of the action. Allowing children to help with small and safe tasks (staying away from sharp knives and hot stoves) can give them a jump-start on learning to cook for themselves. Here are a few enjoyable duties kids can learn to help out with:
- Cracking eggs
- Pouring ingredients from measuring cups
- Stirring batters
- Rinsing vegetables or fruits
- Picking herbs off stems and sprinkling onto food
- Scrubbing potatoes or peeling corn
- Cutting veggies and fruits with kid-friendly utensils
3. Encourage mindful eating.
Setting aside a special time and place for eating goes a long way toward encouraging healthy habits, while watching television or using other electronics is distracting and can lead to over-eating. Make dinner time, or any meal, a pleasant experience: Sit down at the dining table together, play some music in the background, have good conversation, and allow children to stop eating when they say they’re full. Mindful eating teaches children that setting aside time to nourish their bodies with whole foods is a way to practice of self-love. (For more on making family meals more mindful and enjoyable, check out this article.)
4. Be a role model.
What you eat will greatly influence what your children eat. Imagine the battle you’d endure if you set a salad down in front of your kids and then ate a slice of pizza! When children see grownups making healthy choices — including eating a wide variety of foods prepared in a number of different of ways — they are more likely to build healthy food habits themselves.
Instilling healthy eating habits in children takes both time and patience, but the benefits can last throughout their lives. Be the reason that your children are on the path to making lifelong nutritious choices.
Megan Sheley, Nutrition Coach & Marketing Specialist for the Life Time Foundation