It is so important for young children to integrate healthy eating at an early age. First it is what you feed them and how you feed them in these early years that will stay with them for years to come. If a child has good memories of eating fruits and vegetables it will be something they will think of as a feel good thing and have positive emotions attached to eating healthy. Most of us are emotional eaters. We eat when we are upset, we eat when we are bored, we eat to celebrate. These all come from the emotions that were attached to eating when we were children.
I have fond memories of going to Grandma's house where there was a bowl of candy on the table, fresh chocolate cake for dessert, and chips for snacks. These all provided good feelings because it was given to me with loving intent. Years down the road, I still have those feelings attached to those foods. Most of us have some kind of emotions attached to food. You come home from a rough day at work and dive into the chips or cookies because you know it will make you feel better.
So how do we attach these same emotions to healthy snacking? Our children are surrounded by fast food, candy, and unhealthy snacking. Even snacks that aren't healthy are marketed to be "good for you". The other day my daughter was given a chewy granola bar filled with chocolate chips and was told that it was healthy for her. If you look at the ingredients is barely a step above a candy bar. Marketing fools us all into believing we are doing good for our bodies by eating their products. I looked at the ingredients of a "healthy" multigrain fruit bar and the first ingredient in the fruit filling was corn syrup. So how do we get our children to want something healthy when they are bombarded with marketing hype and everyone around them are eating the icky, sticky, gooey treats?
1. Lead by example
I have said this before. Children want to be like you. They look to you for direction and guidance to know what is right and wrong. Even the picky eaters, if given enough positive examples will come around. I have young nieces who have learned that when they come over for dinner they get healthy food. They don't get any of the junky food they get in their own home but have learned to ask for fruit for dessert instead of cake and don't complain about it. They want to come for dinner to see what kind of healthy food we will be having…they are curious. Kids want to learn from us!
2. Make it fun
My 6 year old daughter loves fruit salad because we have a silly song about it. She loves to pick the different fruits we put in it and helps to put the ingredients together. It is a fun, special time we spend together and the whole family gets involved. Kids love to help and making it fun just attaches the positive emotions to the whole event.
3. Only give your child healthy choices
This makes a child feel like they are in control of their food choices. They feel empowered and good about making a decision for themselves. Once in a while we do have candy or cookies in the house (holidays are great for that kind of stuff!) but there isn't an obsessive focus on these foods. They last for a long time because my daughter knows that it is a once in a while small treat.
Here are some ideas for healthy snacking:
Apples with peanut or almond butter
String cheese/ cottage cheese
Mini pizzas made with whole grain English muffins, sauce, cheese, tomatoe and basil
Celery with cream cheese or peanut butter
Frozen grapes or blueberries
Whole grain crackers
Popcorn (put ¼ cup in a paper bag, fold top 2-3 times so it won't open, and microwave…you very own microwave popcorn without all the added ingredients!)
Dried fruit, trail mix (this is fun to make yourself!)
Hard boiled eggs
Apple sauce (very easy to make yourself)
Sliced avocado on crackers
Have fun, be creative…
Lisa Metzgar, PhD
Lisa Metzgar, PhD, has been in the alternative health field since 1996.
She received her BA in Biology from UCSD, is a certified Holistic Health Practitioner, and received her PhD in Holistic Nutrition. Lisa has taught body mind retreats in San Diego, Seattle, and Australia and currently has a practice in Reno, NV where she does nutritional counseling. Lisa's passion is to educate families in a healthy lifestyle. Visit her website Concepts In Wellness or e-mail her at lisa (at) conceptsinwellness.com
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