There was a time when my eldest daughter believed that cheese sticks were desert food. They were a treat we offered her before bed time. It wasn’t until my husband’s family reunion when she sat eating a cheese stick next to her older cousins eating bowls of ice cream that she realized this was not the case.
In 2012, the CDC reports that over one third of U.S. children were overweight or obese. A recent study confirmed that from 2001 to 2009 there was a 21% increase in adolescent cases of Type1 diabetes and a 30% increase for Type 2 diabetes. Raising a healthy eater is not easy, especially when you have a picky eater. But it’s crucial to breaking the cycle of obesity and diabetes that plague our communities.
Offering good food choices and removing bad ones in the home is key. Children that learn to eat healthy in the home take those habits with them. Will they still want soda and junk food? Yes, but that’s ok. Junk food outside of the house is viewed as a treat and one to be consumed in moderation. Completely denying your child of sweets and high caloric foods will only make them revolt later on.
These are the five healthy eating habits to start with your child now. They’ve worked for us and will hopefully work for you too.
1. Don’t buy soda or any sugary drinks. My kids have grown up on milk, water and orange juice because there weren’t any other options. Rarely, they will have a soda at a birthday party or when we go out to dinner. They don’t crave soda and they even complain that they don’t like it that much. By not having it available, children don’t know they are missing it.
2. Place fruit everywhere. There are mandarin oranges in the candy bowl on the coffee table. A large bowl of clean apples on the dining room table. Bananas are perched on the island in the kitchen. At the end of the week the bowls are empty. Healthy snacks that are accessible get eaten and when kids fill their stomachs with fruit they’re less likely to want junk food.
3. Reserve potato chips for special occasions. Potato chips are a party food. They are another treat that children enjoy but don’t regularly ask for. My kids prefer crackers, popcorn, pretzels and even veggies. Like birthday cake and soda, potato chips are a food that is consumed outside of the house in moderation.
4. Offer fruit at the end of the meal. You know that craving for something sweet after dinner? Before you can reach for the ice cream, satisfy your sweet tooth by adding a bowl of strawberries and fresh whipped cream to your dinner menu.
5. Put out a bowl of veggies out before dinner. I get so hungry when I start cooking. There’s something about chopping and sautéing that makes me want to eat NOW! My kids are the same way. I started putting out a bowl of veggies before dinner and everyone seemed to calm down. Baby carrots are our favorite. They are a healthy appetizer and keep me from constantly hearing, “Is dinner ready yet?”
Finally, remember, when creating healthy habits in children it’s best to lead by example.