Every parent knows that making your kids eat a healthy balanced diet is a challenge at the best of times. Throw in after-school activities, holidays and the availability of junk food, and it can feel like a losing battle. So what can you do to help keep your family on the right track all year round?
One of the easiest – and top – mistakes parents often make is not leading by example. Study after study shows that parents who eat a variety of healthy foods are far more likely to have kids that do the same – but it goes beyond eating your fruits and vegetables. It also means avoiding restrictive diets and not complaining about your weight or anyone else’s weight in front of your kids. If your children see you dieting all the time they are more likely to view it as normal eating behaviour and are far more likely to diet themselves.
Another common mistake that parents make over school breaks and holidays is having a lot of sugary foods around the house, keeping the candy cupboard stocked with sugary foods and high-fat treats – even packing them for snacks on the go. If you’re a parent with a picky eater, it’s important to note that kids who snack consistently during the day are far less likely to be hungry and interested at meal times; more importantly, they are less motivated to try new foods.
So whether you’re on spring break or shuttling kids between after school activities there are many healthy foods that parents can pack that are portable, nutritious, and low in refined sugars. Whole-grain granola bars that supply at least 2 grams of dietary fiber, hummus or peanut butter with pretzels, boxes of raisins, homemade trail mixes, and easy-to-pack fruits like bananas, apples, and oranges are just some ideas. If you’re packing a small cooler for after school or day trips to the beach, try part-skim cheese strings, yogurts and yogurt smoothie drinks, celery and baby carrots with vegetable dips.
The last and very common mistake parents often make is becoming a short-order cook for picky eaters. It is important to cook just one meal for the family. Kids who get used to eating a select few foods a day, e.g. chicken nuggets and pancakes, find it harder to accept new foods later on.
If your child refuses to eat the meal you’ve prepared even after you’ve asked them to have at least ‘one bite’, try not to press the issue further. Your child is more likely to come back to that next meal hungry and eat the food you’ve prepared if they know you will not cave in and let them eat whatever they want.
Finally, don’t give up too soon on your child trying a new food. Studies show that in young children it can take up to 10 tries so don’t give up!