So…this is going to sound crazy and simplistic. However, it works. Especially when the kids are young, it does the trick. So…here it is: Model the behaviour you want them to display. You have heard that wise saying, “More is caught than taught.” Well, the bottom line here is as follows. If you bring healthy food for kids into your house, and you proceed to eat healthy food…your children will naturally eat healthy food. If you bring junk food, processed food, sweets and snacks into your home…even just as supplemental food, they will want that. They will think it is meal-worthy, even.
Not too long ago my four-year-old asked me, “Mama, can I have chips for breakfast?” Now, if I didn’t have chips in the house…she would never even think to ask me that. Sadly, my pregnant body was craving a salty snack and so, yes…there they were on the fridge. If we consistently have pizzas in the fridge, or mac and cheese in the cupboard…our children will believe these are staples. Now I do not believe these foods are evil. I love them like the rest of the American world…BUT…I do believe they should be a now and then food, if you know what I mean. Get a store-bought pizza once a month, not every week. Do mac and cheese out of a box only out of necessity, not for every other lunch.
Next show your kids how to eat. “Hmmm, guys…mom’s going to have a snack. Let’s see. I think I am going to cut up some apples. Then, I will get some greek yogurt and mix it with some almond butter to make a tasty dip. Yummy. Ooh, this tastes great.” And the kids come running. They naturally eat what we eat. If I cut up watermelon and put it on the table…eventually a kid is going to saunter over and nibble on that watermelon. Kids will be kids. However, if I whip out a candy bar and start munching I can bet you that child will hear the crumpling of the wrapper from a far corner of the house and arrive at your side in no time.
So, yes…I confess…this is a very simple answer. BUT, with small children who get hungry quite often, simply having healthy food for kids at home is an effective strategy. The great thing about modeling good eating is that when they get older they make good choices and actually learn to enjoy good food. My six-year-old loves munching on celery, grapes, carrots, green peppers…simply because she has always been exposed to them. I am certain she has developed a taste for them because she has had them around all her life.
I grew up in Europe where I never tasted a Dr. Pepper until I was probably 8 or 9, when we visited the US. Interestingly, it tasted like medicine to me! All because I had not learned to enjoy the taste at a younger age. As parents we need to be aware of what tastes we are training our kids into…and I think it all starts with our own eating!
Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (10/5/2015) U.S. Department of Agriculture (Flickr)