Healthy, complete nutrition should be affordable and enjoyable for everyone. Not only for those who follow a regime, but for all who want to live and feel good. And many of my clients and readers who have chosen to live this way are also parents and want that for their children.
But how do you convince a young child that healthy food is tasty and healthy and that broccoli is not an enemy but a friend?
A lot of scientific literature and psychological research to rely on to answer reasonably and in detail the question “How to teach your children to eat healthy? “.
In this article I will share some of the extensive scientifically proven information on the topic, presented in the most accessible and easy to understand option – in the form of some useful tips and strategies to follow to teach your children not only to eat healthily, but also to be pleasant and like it.
Tip 1: No pressure!
This is a common mistake for many parents. In their strong desire to make their children eat healthily – sometimes they overdo it and literally force them to eat that way.
“Eat your vegetables” is a very popular phrase in a number of movies and it’s no coincidence
This obligation may work in this case and the child to eat his portion, but at the same time this approach creates a negative association: that eating healthy or with a certain type of food is an obligation. And obligations are annoying… According to studies, this leads not only to reluctance to eat this food, but also to reduced food intake in general.
The solution here is to give a choice. Children have been shown to react much more positively if given the right to choose between several options. So we should not try to impose our opinion on them, but rather push them in the right direction. Or if I had to give a specific example:
Instead of “Eat your rice!”, The better approach would be “Potatoes or rice you want for garnish”? – Both foods are good sources of slow carbohydrates, so any choice would be a good decision, but the child will most likely feel safer and better if he can choose.
Tip 2: Be an example!
If you want children to get used to the taste and regular intake of healthy food – give them the positive example they need. Show them that you eat the same way and that you like it, explain to them why it is useful.
And here are studies that have shown that this works. The children of parents who regularly consumed fruits and vegetables also showed greater interest and desire to consume these foods in the long run.
Tip 3: Don’t reward eating healthy food!
That’s right, there is no typo. I know we are trying to teach children to eat healthily, but the very act of eating healthy food should not be rewarded in any special way. Why?
Because, just like pressure, expecting a reward for a certain action undermines a person’s personal inner motivation to do so. Gradually, the understanding and the habit that this leads to a reward is built and the whole thing becomes just an instrument for acquiring a certain reward.
Even if a person is motivated to do something – when it is rewarded (with money, or in our case – with sweets, for example), the understanding is gradually built that this is done not for inner satisfaction, but for a reward. In psychology there is a term for this: the effect of over-justification.
So if we give our children sweets as a reward every time they eat healthy food – they will learn that this leads to a reward. And gradually the value of the cake in their minds will increase, while the value of the food they have to eat to get to it will decrease. And this is a prerequisite for eating disorders (especially overeating) and weight problems in the future.
Tip 4: Make healthy food easily available at home!
Another interesting phenomenon in humans is the so-called. our “internal menu”. Or the type of food around which we gravitate and overeat because we are constantly surrounded by external stimuli that push towards it. Understand promotional materials, fast food restaurants, restaurants, flavors, various grocery stores, etc. To a large extent, what surrounds us also determines what we eat if we do not consciously think about our choices.
This knowledge is also useful in the case of children – if they are surrounded by healthy, nutritious food at home, if they have ready-made food for school and have something to choose from when they open the fridge (remember Tip 1) – it has been proven much more they are likely to choose this type of food more often, even when they are alone at home, outside with friends, or in another setting where we have no control over what they eat.
In other words, we need to build the right environment around them to encourage them to make the right decisions without our specific intervention. And I’m sure it’s not just about food.
Tip 5: Try to be tasty and look good!
When a person tastes and enjoys eating a certain food, he consumes it more often and with pleasure. Children are no exception. If we serve them a plate with simple tasteless cooked rice and dry roasted meat, they will hardly be fascinated by this type of food, when at the same time they are surrounded by advertisements and restaurants for delicious, fast processed food, which – surprisingly, is not healthy.
Instead – we should pay more attention to the food we prepare at home, try to be tasty, well-prepared, flavored with spices rich in aromas and flavors, served in a pleasant way… The purpose of all this is to strengthen the senses – to smell well, to look appetizing and delicious. To please both us and our children and to become a preferred choice over the more easily available for purchase and preparation, but more harmful or unpleasant-tasting foods.
Children are curious, highly adaptable and smart little people and we should not underestimate these qualities. They should not be forced and obliged to follow certain understandings blindly, simply because they should. On the contrary, they should be given a positive example, pushed carefully in the right direction, and explained simply but clearly why it is good to do so.
I am sure we will agree if I say that this approach will work well not only for healthy food choices, but also for many other important choices that you have to make later in life.