Most parents have one common question and a common goal when it comes to feeding their children, "How can I raise my child to be a healthy eater?" While some children may seem like they were naturally born to be healthy eaters others may seem to hate every food you put on their plate. Before you throw in the nutritional towel (or give them sweets just to see them eat) read on for 5 tips to encourage your child to grow into a healthy eater! The great news is that it is NEVER too early to encourage healthy eating habits and the better news is that it is NEVER too late to start implementing these practices. Always remember that healthy eating starts at home!
1. Embrace the Mess
Does mealtime at your house ever seem like it should come complete with a rain poncho? Don't fret! You are not alone! Eating is likely the first "sensory" type of play your child will experience. The tactile stimulation from feeling new and messy textures provides information that enables your child's brain to process and develop responses. This will encourage curiosity and can help them seek out and discover sensory experiences as they grow. They will experiment with different characteristics such as texture, temperature, and density in order to discover more about the foods they eat.
From this point they can attempt to put food in their mouths and see how it tastes and how they tolerate it. Let your child touch their food, experiment with it, and if they want to, let them get messy! This will help to encourage a positive mealtime. If you are constantly stressing over wiping your little one's face or cleaning their tray and trying to take their spoon back and keep mealtime neat, you could be discouraging the flow. Encourage a positive mealtime by going for a more laid back vibe. This will allow your child to feel comfortable playing and experimenting with their food. They will be more likely to try something new that they can not only see but that they can feel. Let them become aware that mealtime is a safe and fun time for them to try new things. Begin encouraging good table manners by always supplying utensils and demonstrating how to use them.
With the right tools you can help contain the mess! Check out this splat mat to protect your floor from the mess. A great bib can make all the difference! We love this long sleeve waterproof bib from Green Sprouts for keeping mealtime clean and dry.
2. No need to serve "Naked Food"
Don't be afraid to feed your babies spices and seasoning! Although the norm in this culture is to start babies on a bland diet, there is absolutely no science behind it. The sooner you introduce them to spices and seasoning, the better. This will help them to have a more refined palate as they grow and it will certainly make it easier when you start trying to feed them what the rest of your family is eating. You probably don’t enjoy boring and bland foods and chances are your little one doesn’t either. Are you breastfeeding? Chances are your little one has already taken a walk on the culinary wild side! A mother's breast milk takes on a slight favor based on the foods they eat. Starting them on bland foods may be like going backwards. Note that the same guidelines for starting new foods also apply to spices and seasoning. Be sure to introduce one new food at a time and wait for a reaction.
Delicious food combinations to try
3. Always serve food with an expectant attitude
Regardless of how many times your child has refused a food, always serve it with a positive expectation that they will eat it. This is an all too common feeding mistake with children. Your child may resist new foods for several reasons, but just because they spit out avocados the first, second, or third time you feed them, doesn't mean they won't one day turn into a guacamole fiend. You may need to try a food 20 times and ten different ways, but in the end the health benefits will be worth it!
Be careful not to quickly label your child as a "picky eater" – as this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you treat them like a child who won’t eat vegetables, you can be certain that they won’t eat their vegetables. Also, your child may enjoy a certain food for months but then suddenly decide they no longer have any interest in it. This does not mean they will never eat this food again, they may just need a change. Never stop trying and never let yourself feel defeated if your child seems to keep rejecting foods. Stay positive and never try to force them to eat something. Your expectant and upbeat attitude will encourage a positive mealtime and have your kids following suit.
4. Be a positive role model
Plain and simple, YOU are the most positive role model for your children! You cannot expect your little ones to chow down on quinoa or eat their greens if they do not see Mom and Dad doing it. Let them witness your love for healthy eating and they will likely mirror your attitude about food. Basically from birth your child is trying to imitate you, trying to mimic your noises and respond to your smile with their own grin. Eating habits are no different!
The way you talk about food, the types of snacks you choose and the way you cook meals will all help to influence their eating habits. Model the behaviors you want to instill in them and you will be teaching them to make healthy and nutritious food choices. This is a great opportunity for parents to clean up their diet as well.
5. Focus on quality not quantity
Around the time your toddler turns one you’ll probably notice a sharp drop in their appetite. They may suddenly become picky about what they’re eating, or turn their head away after just a few bites. Although it may seem as if they should be eating more now that they’re so active, there’s a good reason for the change. Following the first year, which is that largest amount of growth your child will experience in their lives, the growth rate begins to slow down, and they really don’t require as much food. If you experience this with your toddler you can rest assured they would not let themselves go hungry!
Your child is born with the ability to regulate their own food intake. Let their hunger be your guide. At this stage you need to focus on the quality of the food they are eating, not the quantity. Choose nutrient dense foods for your little one and avoid giving them empty calories. Although it may make you feel better as a parent that they ate “something” instead of nothing you need to recognize the long term picture. Their little bodies need foods packed with vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats -- not processed foods that are full of sugar. It is your job as a parent to continue to encourage this and to stay positive!