With childhood obesity rates in the United States skyrocketing, it should come as no real surprise that more American kids are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and other health problems related to poor dietary habits than ever before. Unfortunately, getting picky kids to willingly eat vegetables instead of the high-fat foods that are actively marketed towards them can be quite a challenge. Most modern parents are well-acquainted with the struggle of maintaining a healthy diet for their children in a society that seems determined to provide them with more sugar and empty calories than nutrition, but there are ways to help your children form good eating habits.
- Start Early – Introducing your toddler to fruits and vegetables rather than chicken nuggets and French fries can make instilling good habits much easier as they get older. Breaking a bad habit is much more difficult than avoiding the acquisition of one, so limiting your little one’s exposure to unhealthy convenience food from early childhood is best.
- Limit Unhealthy Purchases – Convincing a child to eat his carrots is sure to be difficult when he knows that there are tater tots in the freezer. Limit the availability of unhealthy options, and make a habit of preparing healthful fare at every opportunity. When there are unhealthy, albeit appealing, foods lurking in the pantry, kids aren’t as likely to complain and beg for those things.
- Model Good Eating Habits – Kids mimic the adults around them, and they quickly pick up the habits that their grown-up loved ones exhibit. Bemoaning the necessity of a diet rich in fresh produce and vocally yearning for a drive-thru cheeseburger won’t help your child appreciate healthy food as a tasty and nutritious choice, it’ll make eating well seem like an unpleasant task. If choosing broccoli over chili dogs is a chore for you, it’s best to keep that attitude from showing when dinnertime rolls around. Remember, you can’t expect a child not to complain when they hear you doing just that.
- Be Firm – When a child throws a tantrum and refuses to eat her vegetables, many parents simply relent to avoid difficulty. Though it’s infinitely easier to cave under pressure and provide your child with the unhealthy foods she demands than it is to stand firm, it’s ultimately detrimental to her health and discipline to continually give in to her. Forcing a child to choke down foods that they truly dislike, however, will only breed resentment. Experiment with different preparations, combinations, and types of vegetables until you find what works for your family, and resist the temptation to take the easier path. When good habits have been established, the number of dinnertime complaints will drop dramatically.
- Get Kids in the Kitchen – Young children love to help, and meal preparation is no exception. Furthermore, the feeling of accomplishment that comes from knowing that they aided in the creation of the meal makes healthy food more appealing. The ability to make good choices stems from a good education, and that education begins in the home. Rather than making the kitchen off-limits for your kids, get them in on the action and take every available opportunity to teach them about the importance of a good diet.
- Presentation is Key – Even adults are likely to turn their noses up at poorly presented, unappetizing fare, and kids tend to be far pickier. Getting kids to willingly eat their vegetables can be as simple as presenting them in a way that’s both tasty and aesthetically pleasing.
- Adopt a “No Hiding” Policy – Sneaking vegetables into foods that your kids already love will certainly make them a part of their diet, but it won’t help them acquire the good eating habits that are essential to maintaining health as they get older. Kids will still plead and pout when spinach shows up on the dinner table, regardless of how much you’ve been hiding in their smoothies.
- Start and Maintain a Family Garden – Researchers at the Department of Endocrinology at the Mayo Clinic have determined that kids who are actively involved in maintaining a family vegetable garden are more likely to enjoy the results than their non-gardening peers. Even a small plot can help generate excitement and make kids eager to eat food that they’ve helped to grow, so consider starting a garden if at all possible. In addition to boosting kids’ likelihood of willingly eating fresh produce, gardening also serves as a physically active hobby.
Kids who have grown accustomed to a diet comprised mainly of processed food will almost certainly be resistant to a move in a healthier direction initially. Though complaints will be common when you first begin to integrate fresh produce after a long period of unhealthy eating, it’s important to maintain a firm stance. In no time at all, your kids will be on a path to healthier eating without complaints.