There are so many benefits of nutritious eating, but incorporating those eating habits isn’t necessarily easy. So, what can you do to help your family make better choices? How can you make nutritious eating a habit? We talked with Katrina Anderson, a Family Life Educator at Sanford Children’s CHILD Services, to find out some tips on how to make it fun for kids of all ages.
Small steps lead to success. “We all know that it’s not easy to change, so start slow,” says Katrina. “Instead of trying to change all of your habits at one time, maybe choose one or two new habits you would like to adopt into your lifestyle.”
If you want to drink more water throughout the day, Katrina suggests starting by replacing one beverage during your day with water. After a couple days of being consistent, replace two beverages each day with water. Before you know it, consuming more water throughout your day will become a habit. Simply put, the process of making healthy choices is a work in progress, and it’s all about balance when making those food choices.
Overcome the obstacles. As many people know, a hectic schedule poses one of the biggest challenges to having your family make healthy choices. Time often presents problems when it comes to feeding kids. It’s common to think that nutritious foods can’t also be travel-friendly or ready to enjoy on-the-go, but that’s far from true. An easy way to have nutritious snacks ready while going from place to place is to keep a few nonperishable options in your car or bag. Snacks like whole-wheat pretzels, raisins, or plain popcorn provide fiber, vitamins, and proteins to keep your kids full and happy.
When it comes to a nutritious dinner, it doesn't always have to be hot or home-cooked. After a big day, kids might not be interested in a large, hot meal. Serving a picnic-style meal with things like whole-grain crackers, string cheese, apple slices, baby carrots, hummus, and low-fat yogurt will hit the spot just the same—and it’s fun!
Your picnic includes crucial protein, calcium, fruit, and vegetables, along with whole grains. Best of all, if you have the foods already on hand, it takes less than five minutes to assemble. That’s a win!
Accountability leads to consistency. The decision to choose more nutritious foods is a decision that involves the whole family. “That means that you, as a care provider, have to commit to new eating habits, too. It is much easier to encourage children to consume nutritious foods if you are being a role model and consuming these foods alongside them,” says Anderson.
Keeping a chart with different actions to check off, such as "I ate fruit today," works even with adults. Simply seeing the check mark reinforces that you followed through. According to Katrina, it can take anywhere from 8 to 15 times of being introduced a food before a child will fully consume the item. Staying consistent and helping your children understand what different foods do for their bodies and brains will help reinforce them to continue choosing nutritious options.
Make nutritious choices fun! Making healthy choices doesn't have to be boring. The trick is to make it fun, interesting, and age-appropriate.
For preschoolers, make sandwiches interesting. Cut your whole wheat sandwich into a fun shape after you make it, or take a big whole wheat pretzel and wrap your turkey around that. It's the same as a sandwich, but it’s more fun to eat!
Kids in elementary and middle school can help plan a menu for the week, accompany you to the store, or help prepare a meal. Involving your kids, when you can, helps them get a better idea of what it means to make nutritious choices. By taking them to the store or farmers' market, or letting them choose what the family will eat, they play an important part in mealtimes and learn important habits they will carry into adulthood.
With teenagers, you can focus on how nutritious choices will make them feel. By making nutritious choices, they’ll perform better in their extracurricular activities, such as athletics, a musical production, or math club. Focus on what nutritious foods do for your body and brain today.
Learning to make healthy choices is a journey, so you can’t expect perfection right away. But with persistence, a can-do attitude, and a little help from the kids, you’ll be making more nutritious choices than ever before.
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