Raising healthy kids isn’t always easy.
Parents are sometimes saddled with the challenge of feeding their children healthy meals. Factors like a limited budget or a busy lifestyle — which can lead to limited energy for preparing healthy meals three times a day, every day — can contribute to the decline in children’s developmental growth.
However, keeping your little ones in tip-top shape need not be a chore. Here are some surefire ways to encourage healthy eating habits in children while watching your wallet:
1. Model healthy eating behavior.
Nutrition advisors say that healthy eating habits are established early on in life. From infancy, children can already observe the eating behaviors of their parents or caregivers.
Children exposed to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables early on tend to maintain a pattern of preferring healthy food throughout their lifetime. Comparatively, children who were brought up on foods that are not as nutritious are more likely to exhibit eating behaviors and food preferences that contain excess amounts of fat and sugar.
The environment that you expose your child to also plays a significant role in modeling a healthy eating lifestyle. Frequent exposure to fast food restaurants and similar establishments can lead to increased consumption of high-fat food items such as french fries, rather than more nutritious options like fresh fruit and vegetables.
Even food packaged especially for children can be misleading. Sweetened drinks, for example, may satisfy their thirst, but contain minimal to zero nutritional value. That is why brown-bagging your kid’s lunch or snacks will be a better and cheaper alternative as you have more control over what he’s eating in school.
Refrain from eating junk food as well since children will follow your example. Instead, let them see you eating the same balanced meals made from whole foods that you are serving them.
2. Eat slowly.
Show your child how to chew properly and savor the food. The brain registers satiety after about 20 minutes from starting your meal. Eating too fast will make you eat more than your body needs.
Do not force them to finish the food off their plates as well. Instead, teach them to get only the amount of food they can finish. Second helpings can be allowed, but children must be taught to be mindful of whether they can eat it all or not, so they need not get as much food as their first helping.
3. Opt for healthy (and budget-friendly) choices when food shopping.
Take stock of what’s in your pantry and check if there are expiring goods. If there are, work them into your weekly food plan to avoid wastage. Then, make a list before going to the supermarket and stick to it. Don’t forget to continuously compare prices as you do your regular shopping. Sometimes, nameless brands are cheaper but still of good quality.
Doing research beforehand also offers you affordable alternatives to your ingredients. Quinoa, for example, is all the rage now. Since it can be rather pricey, perhaps you can switch to brown rice instead.
Bring your kids along when buying food as this will also clue you in on their preferences.
Also, include them in meal preparation as this not only strengthens your bond, but also opens the chance to discuss the importance of good diet and nutrition.
4. Plan meals.
Keeping in mind the five food groups for children, create delectable and hearty meals designed to encourage them to eat healthily. Aim for five nutritious meals a day – three main meals and two healthy snacks – while keeping a close watch on portion size and ingredients.
Check out recipes that fit your household budget. You will be amazed at the wealth of creative ideas on how to turn simple ingredients into delightful dishes. Work around what you have in stock so nothing goes to waste.
Meals should be scheduled at relatively consistent times. By observing a mealtime routine, your kids will learn to anticipate when they will eat. They will learn that feelings of hunger will then be relieved and there is no need to be cranky or irritable.
Do not force them to eat when they are not hungry. That is why it is best to prevent them from grazing or munching on snacks throughout the day so it will not affect their appetite during scheduled mealtimes.
5. The family who eats together stays healthy together.
Sitting down to meals together as a family should be a pleasant experience. This is the time when everyone can relax and share stories about their day over good, nutritious food. Children will also see how their parents eat and thus assimilate the eating behaviors of their family members. Avoid arguments or unpleasant situations while eating as children may associate eating with stress.
Having home-cooked meals are also better than eating out. Aside from providing you and your family precious quality time together, this will also be lighter on the pocket.
6. Steer clear of distractions.
Adopt a no-gadgets-on-the-table policy during mealtimes and turn off the TV. Children should know the difference between mealtime and playtime so they can devote their attention more to their food.
Instill in your little ones polite eating manners and proper social interaction. By removing distractions from the mealtime table, your youngsters can focus more on the savory delights that you have prepared for them.
7. Don’t use food as bait.
Using food as a prize or a punishment can undermine the healthy eating habits you are trying to teach your children. Giving food as a reward – chips, sweets, sodas or the like – might lead them to overeat food high in sugar and fat and low in nutritional value.
Doing this will also influence child behavior as they will associate food with certain emotions. Tying food with rewards might lead to weight gain since they will lean towards overeating when they want to feel good or reward themselves.
On the other hand, withdrawing food as a form of punishment may also lead children to have an aversive attitude towards food, especially the healthy ones that you want to encourage them to eat more of.
A happy and healthy home
Getting children to follow and maintain healthy eating habits can be a challenge. With proper planning, however, you can guide your family towards a nutritionally fulfilling lifestyle.
Having a clear strategy on how to manage your meals at home also allows you to better handle your food budget. Keeping a close eye on the amount and quality of food your family consumes (as well as an eagle eye on your purse strings) will ensure that everyone in the household can have a deliciously good time.