Often, it appears as if health, like many other things, runs in the family. This is because children model themselves on their parents, picking up eating habits, posture, and mental attitudes—whether healthy or unhealthy—directly from them.
Healthy eating is learnt
Shalini, a stay-at-home mother, is keen that her children, Rohan, eight, and Anmol, six, grow up with healthy eating habits. A substantial part of her day is spent in the kitchen cooking up healthy and balanced meals for them. However, the greatest part of her challenge is to get her children to eat their meals. Towards this end, she cajoles them, scolds them, and even bribes them with promises of a sweet treat, if they finish the meal without a fuss.
Her efforts extend to closely monitoring her children when they are outside, to ensure that they do not eat things they are not supposed to. However, the children, typically, gorge themselves on the very things they are supposed to avoid, at every opportunity they get, without getting caught!
Like Shalini, most parents assume that the only way to getting their children to develop healthy eating habits is by imposing rules on them. The truth is, you can teach your children to choose to eat food that is good for them—and enjoy it. Rather than dictating to your children what foods they are supposed to eat or not eat, you can guide them to start voluntarily making healthier choices.
Set an example
The best way to persuade your child to adopt healthy eating practices is to persuade yourself to adopt them. All too often parents, knowingly or otherwise, are themselves responsible for children forming strong likes and dislikes for certain foods. By making it a practice to enjoy healthy food, you are setting an example that your child will follow. All you need to do then is reinforce desirable behaviour with adequate praise.
Teach them the right choices
These are some healthy eating practices that you can instil in your children:
- Encourage them to eat a whole variety of healthy foods, especially fruits, vegetables, nuts etc.
- Maintain regular mealtimes. Discourage random snacking, intended just to counter boredom.
- Serve meals only at the dining table. Discourage eating alone or while watching television.
- Ensure that mealtimes are relaxed and enjoyable, with humour and light-hearted conversation. Try to avoid scolding children at the table or compelling them to eat something they particularly dislike.
- Make sure your children have an adequate breakfast.
- Teach your child to eat slowly and chew food properly.
- Refrain from dictating which foods your children should eat. Instead, offer them a range of healthy options to choose from.
- Eat fried or fatty foods in moderation. As they grow up, you can teach children to pick up low-fat alternatives.
- Restrict sweets; however, banning them altogether is unnecessary and may even be counterproductive.
- Encourage the practice of washing hands properly before and after every meal.
- Teach them to wash fruits or vegetables thoroughly before eating them. A good way to do this is to get them to help you in the kitchen by washing vegetables intended for cooking.
- Discourage your children from buying unhygienic food from street stalls. Teach them to discriminate between places that are safe to buy food from, and those that are not.
- Let your children accompany you on shopping trips. Explain to them reasons for your choice of products.
- Never use food treats to bribe or punish children.
- Be aware of what your children eat outside the house.
- Do not force your children to eat if they are not hungry.
Talk about the role of food
Teach your children about the working of the human body. Explain the role of food in sustaining it. You will, of course, have to adapt your explanations to the ages of your children. For instance, you may tell younger children that eating too many chocolates can give them a stomach ache, reminding them about how disagreeable such a scenario would be.
In the case of older children, you may talk about the nutritional components of food, explaining how a balance of these is required for the body to function properly. This way they can learn that while ice cream is not bad, the body also requires the nutrition it gets from salads and other food items.
Explain the benefits of good health
Make sure your children understand the connection between good health and right food. Impress upon them how undesirable disease or sickness can be. Point out how good health allows them to enjoy their daily routines such as playing, going to school, and doing things they enjoy. Point out how falling sick only leads to missing school, not being allowed to go to play, and unpleasant visits to the doctor. After all, the healthy habits they form now will last them a lifetime.
Do you have a problem getting your children to eat healthy food? How do you get them to make the right choices? To share your experiences, views and tips with us, click here.