Creating healthy eating habits for you and your family can be a challenge. Try these tried and true tips from my family to yours.
As a mother to three young children, I can understand how busy life can get and how stressful meal planning and preparation can be. Healthy eating habits really do begin at home. We as parents are role models for our children starting at a very young age. The habits that are developed at home can stick from childhood all the way to adolescence. Children are always looking up to us. What we say, do, and what we eat is constantly being observed. So how do we begin implementing positive eating habits in our own home? The answer is simple: lead by example.
This same principle can be used with the amount of physical activity your child is getting per day. Being active yourself can inspire your children to be active and move their bodies, too. You can make fitness fun by participating in activities together such as hiking, biking, going for a walk or playing a sport outdoors.
Why are healthy eating habits important?
In today’s society, we are bombarded with pre-packaged processed foods, high sugar consumption, fast food, and unhealthy food choices. According to Stats Canada, “Currently, almost one-third of children are overweight or obese,” and “fewer than 10% of children meet the current guidelines of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous-physical activity (MVPA) per day.” Research also showed that there is a parent-child association for physical activity and weight, and projected body mass index.
As a holistic nutritionist, it is my mission to bring forward awareness on this topic and to educate people on how to implement healthy eating habits and choices within your home.
It’s understandable that outside of the home there can be special events, such as birthday parties, where your child will be around unhealthy food choices. It’s important to discuss with them that it’s perfectly okay to have a treat food from time to time, never depriving them or making them feel bad for making an unhealthy choice. Rather, I like to call party foods “sometimes foods.” This means that these foods may be enjoyed from time to time or on occasion as a treat, but not on a daily basis. The last thing you want to do is have your child become anxious or frightened about eating certain foods.
Another good eating habit to implment is proper food portions. Educat- ing our children about proper portion control is crucial for their health. Children often reach for more thinking “bigger is better,” but as parents, it is our job to encourage them to only put a little amount of food on their plate to start, and then offering more as they need once they finish.
In my household, I always tell my children to start with a glass of water before dinner. Then, they need to eat their vegetables first before the potatoes or rice for example. Most of the time, my children gobble up their food and ask for more—but I tell them to put their forks down, drink water, walk away for five to 10 minutes and if they still want seconds, I offer it to them. This is an exercise I do with my children daily to allow them to become more mindful at mealtime.
Too often, people feel the need to continue to eat after their plate is finished, but if we do these simple affective tricks it allows the hunger hormone in our stomach to connect with the brain, telling us that we are in fact satisfied, and full.
Here are a few tips you can implement in your own home for controlling portions:
- » Eat off of smaller plates.
- » Do not eat out of the bags or
- » Serve meals on plates, rather than bringing the entire dish to the table.
- » Serve salads/veggies/fruits first be- fore grains or starchy carbohydrates.
- » Practice meal prepping weekly and be sure to separate proper portions.
- » Try to eat slowly and put your fork down after every bite. This creates mindful eating.
There are two types of sugars: those naturally occurring in foods such as milk (lactose) and fruit (fructose), and unnatural sugars that are added in processed foods, beverages or chemically made foods (like high fructose corn syrup). The sugars that occur naturally in foods such as fruit contain many health benefits and are processed much differently in the body than unnatural sugars.
The recommended daily allowance of added sugars for children ages two to 18 is six teaspoons of added sugars, which is approximately 25 grams per day. It is important to monitor the sugar counts in all of the packaged foods your child is eating. This includes yogurt, bread, crackers, etc. Certain yogurts contain over 19 grams of sugar per serving! That’s already more than half of the daily recommended limit per day.
*TIP: WHEN READING LABELS, KEEP IN MIND THAT 4 GRAMS OF SUGAR IS EQUIVALENT TO 1 TEASPOON.
Reducing your child’s daily consump- tion of sugar is absolutely essential for their health and reduces their chances of getting type 2 diabetes and heart disease later in life. I often differentiate sugars from natural and unnatural sourc- es in our home. My children know that bananas, for example, are high in sugar but also contain vitamins and minerals our body needs for energy vs. having a candy bar or a handful of cookies.
It can be very challenging to get children to eat their veggies once they have had a taste of sugar. Who wants to eat broccoli after tasting chocolate or ice cream? You will be happy to know that there are a few sneaky ways to get your child to eat their fruits and vegetables.
Fun and sneaky ways to get your children to try new foods
1. Use cookie cutters to stamp through veggies, sandwiches, or fruit to create different shapes. This helps make meal/snack time more fun.
2. Play “make believe” with meals. For example, if your little one is into dinosaurs, pretend that broccoli is a tree and that they, the dinosaur, needs to eat five pieces in order to run away from his toy tiger.
3. Allow your child to assist you with cooking and baking. When they feel as though they made the food, they are more likely to eat it.
4. Play games that encourage your child to learn about food. For example, teach them that in order for our bodies to grow strong and healthy, we must eat protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats. Have them cut out pictures from magazines or online of images that display this. Then at dinner time, have them point out some of these on their own plate or build their plate to have these three macronutrients.
5. Arrange food on their plate into patterns or shapes like a star or a heart.
6. Buy fun lunch boxes like a bento box with characters your child likes. This will create excitement about the food they are about to eat.
7. Transform traditional family favourites, like mac & cheese into a healthier alternative by using butternut squash or cauliflower in place of cheesy sauce.
8. Use zucchinis as a “boat” and have your child help you fill the boat with treasures like cheese, tomato sauce, chopped bell peppers, and olives.
9. Create “magic wands” using a skewer and threading colourful fruits onto them.
10. Have cut up fruits and vegetables accessible in the fridge and less pack- aged foods in the pantry. Out of sight. Out of mind!
At the end of the day, all we can do as parents is try our best and educate ourselves first about healthy eating and lifestyle habits. It is us who set the example for our children and if we want them to lead long, healthy lives, we must really model that first starting with ourselves.
More Inspiration: Check out this article on how changing your kids diet can change their mood.
Author: Andrea Saliba is a holistic nutritionist, health coach and group fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. She offers nutrition plans to gain energy, strength and confidence. Her approach is to inspire people to make healthier food choices while educating her clients on the importance of the mind-body connection.