Raising a Healthy Eater

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Are you trying to implement healthier, cleaner eating but worry about getting your kids (and maybe your spouse too) on board? As a mom of an 8 year old, I’ve been there. When my daughter was little, she was a breeze to feed. She LOVED butternut puree and devoured avocado. As she got older however, she started to exert her independence and sometimes pushed back at the introduction of new foods. Instead of following the old rule that it often takes several times for a child to try a food before they like it, I started to fall back on a few simple meals that I knew would be a hit. Life was hectic juggling a job, a toddler and home life so I followed the path of least resistance. The problem was that the list of foods that she would eat got smaller and smaller every month. I was hesitant (like I am sure many of you are) to make any changes for fear that they would not go over well. When I made the decision to go back to school to become a health coach, I realized it was time for my whole family to get back on track. If I was going to teach others to live a healthy lifestyle, I needed to walk the walk. I told my daughter that we were going to start trying new foods and told her why it was important. While not every meal was an instant hit, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the transition was. Just the other day, my daughter was pretending to make up a grocery list. I heard her reciting from the other room “apples, yams, almonds, dates, spinach, strawberries…”. While it may be easier the earlier you start, it just goes to show that you CAN make changes the whole family will be on board with – even if your family didn’t grow up eating that way. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Lead by example: If you want your kids to eat more green veggies, make sure that you eat them as well. Instead of buying soda, try seltzer water with a splash of fruit juice. If it’s not in the house, they will need to choose from healthier options.
  2. Grow a garden: Intimidated about how to begin or have limited space? Start with a few buckets of tomato plants and some herbs. Most importantly, get the kids involved! My daughter loves to get her hands in the dirt and plant! When she sees those plants start to grow, she is full of pride. Not to mention, home grown tastes better – WAY BETTER! I have seen kids swear they hate tomatoes and then they try one right off of the vine and ask for more! If gardening isn’t your thing, that’s OK too. Take the whole family to the local farmer’s market or research a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).
  3. Don’t force them to clean their plate: I fully admit that this one was TOUGH for me because I was always afraid that she wasn’t eating enough. I didn’t trust that she knew when she was full. This made some dinners a nightmare. Once I learned to back off, not only was dinner more enjoyable, she relaxed too and started to try new things. If you are introducing a new food and your kid(s) are apprehensive, ask them to just try a couple bites. If they don’t like it, don’t make them finish it. Try it again in a week or two and see how it goes.
  4. Try familiar foods prepared in a healthier way: Do your kids love pizza? Try a make your own pizza night! You can usually find frozen whole wheat pizza dough in your local grocery store, or you can even make your own from scratch. Step outside the box and try grilled veggies or fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato in the height of the summer. Other ideas include baking and freezing muffins that include whole wheat pastry flour instead of white flour and a lot less sugar like these blueberry oat muffins or my daughter’s favorite pumpkin muffins.
  5. Get them involved: In my blog post 5 benefits of menu planning, I talk about asking your spouse and kids to contribute to the weeks menu by asking what they would like to eat. In addition, ask your little ones to help prepare the food. Not only is it a great way for them to learn how to measure, cut (if they are old enough), pour and mix, it will also help them appreciate what goes into their meals every day.

I hope that these tips will help you to feel more comfortable introducing a healthier way of eating to your family. Do you have any additional tips to share? How have you gotten your kiddos to be a healthier eater? I’d love to hear from you!

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