10 Tips On How To Create Healthy Little Eaters
Recently, I have been doing talks for parents at school and in the workspace on how to create healthy little eaters.
Every parent wants their child to be healthy and happy. The question is, as a parent, how do you promote this in a balanced way that enhances long-term health physically, emotionally and mentally.
Today we are faced with a double-edged sword dilemma when it comes to matters of weight and body image in young children.
On the one hand, we see a rise in obesity, with 340 million children worldwide obese or overweight. On the other hand, not enough attention is given to the ever-growing prevalence of eating disorders and poor body image perceptions, with 81% of 10-year olds being afraid of getting fat and 42% of girls grade 1-3 wanting to lose weight.
Children need to be provided with a variety of nourishing food choices in order to optimize growth and performance. They need structure and routine as well as love, encouragement, and understanding of their growing bodies and changing preference.
Developing a healthy and supportive feeding environment from a young age, while establishing a clear division of responsibility when it comes to eating and mealtimes is important and can be a challenge at times.
Here are some tips on how to create healthy eating habits form a young age.
Try to include your children in the meal preparation process. Ask them what it is they want to eat and allow them to feel included, even if this means having a burger and chips sometimes. You are there to guide them and show them how to incorporate variety but let them feel as if their opinion counts too. By allowing them to help make the meal, they become more exposed to different foods and texture, preventing them from becoming fussy eaters.
This may not always be possible if you are a working parent, however, try as much as possible to eat as a family. Mealtime is a great time for children to share their stories from the day and ideally, should not be a battlefield where there is always a fight about what or how much your kids are eating. Mealtimes are also a great opportunity for parents to model healthy eating behaviours such as trying different foods in a mindful way.
Mindful and intuitive eating
Children are born with an undisturbed hunger intuition. It is important to allow them to learn self-regulate. Helping them from a young age to recognize different colours of foods on the plates, the textures of the food as well as where the food grows allows them to be more mindful of the food they eating. Helping them understand what happens when their tummy is hungry , “it rumbles and makes noises”. Encourage meals to be eaten at the table or in an area where food is the focus and try as much as possible to avoid eating in front of the TV or with an IPAD (I know this isnt always possible and easier said than done).
Provide Rather than Deprive
This does not mean your child should be eating cakes, chocolates, sweets and cold drinks at their leisure. There are limits, boundaries and rules – just like with everything in life. The important message to teach, is that everything is good in moderation. Depriving your child of certain foods only results in an over-indulgence when they are available. Depriving children of certain foods can also result in a guilty association being formed to those foods and can lead to sneaking around when it comes to these food items.
As a parent, your role is to provide a variety of nourishing meals and snacks, that contain a wide array of macro and micronutrients. As important as it to offer a variety of foods that nourish and provide the nutrients needed to promote health and wellness, it is also important to give a small portion of the percieved ‘forbidden’ foods. This teaches balance, both in eating and in lifestyle.
Put weight into Perspective
Teaching children that it is not their weight that defines them but rather who they are is an important lesson. Showing them that there is no wrong way to have a body and that is not our outside shell that defines us, can allow them to feel more comfortable in their own skin.
Your role as a parent is to provide a safe environment and activities that are fun for your children to partake in. In the end, it’s your child’s decision what type of movement feels good for their bodies. It is important to promote movement for reasons that are not weight loss. Teaching them how to be a team player and to gain confidence by participating in a sport they love is key.
Encouraging activity by using words like, “fun”, “makes your body strong”, “gives you energy”, “helps you to concentrate more”, “makes your brain happy” is recommended. The best way to encourage movement and activity is by participating in family activities and playing with your children. Plan family activities that get everyone moving such as biking, dancing, going for walks, soccer, netball or basketball. Do not force your child to play a sport that they don’t love.
Be a Role Model
Actions speak louder than words and often parents who struggle with their own weight and body image, find it hard to promote healthy body image perceptions in their children. Children not only listen to how you talk about food and your body, but they also see the love and care you give to yourself
Stop that Fat Talk
Fat talk is a term coined to describe talking about your own or someone else’s weight in both a positive or negative light. This includes labelling foods as healthy or junk, talking about changing your own weight through going on a diet or even complimenting a friend of losing so much weight. Fat talk can result in your children internalizing negative messages about how they should think of their own bodies or quantify self-worth.
Balance is a good lesson to be teaching children through your actions. Without balance we tend to swing from one extreme to the next, especially when it comes to all things diet related. Modelling balance when it comes to eating both nourishing and simply delicious foods as well as exercise and rest is important.
Nutrition and fitness should be viewed in a positive light by all of us. We need to shift the focus from skinny and weight-obsessive to energy, fun, the importance it has with social connections and health. We need to value health and well-being over image and teach children to eat foods that make them feel good, nourished and strong from a young age.
Nourish yourself to the sunrise.
Written with love ,
Sunrise by HM
Nourished yet? Comment on what I should write about next?
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