“Mommy, I really don’t like these lumps.”
“I know honey, but they are just strawberries and bananas, two things that you like.”
It’s Sunday, and we’re at the breakfast table. My husband watches this conversation and looks at me, questioningly.
Healthy Eating Habits
“I’m moving him over to regular yogurt now, and he’s having trouble with the transition.”
Oh, how I wish I could turn back time. My sons are now 7 and 10, deeply entrenched in childhood. And guess what? I’m coming clean. They basically eat like toddlers.
So despite all the challenges I’ve had with Kevin, the IEP, the seizures, and all the other issues we face, I think that how I started feeding my kids is my biggest parenting mistake so far. Because it’s been the hardest one to turn around.
Some days, I feel like the Talking Heads–“How did I get here?”
I was only going to breastfeed! I’d make my own baby food, and it would be homegrown and organic! They were only going to eat what we eat. My list of good intentions goes on and on and on.
And now, at ages 7 and 10, my kids are still eating chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs and yogurt specially made for kids that has umpteen grams of sugar. Even when I do feed them healthy things, like say watermelon, I worked too hard at making it palatable.
Now, if he sees a seed, he’s DONE. I wish I hadn’t catered to them so much in this arena. I was so afraid that they’d choke on a seed or something. Or that I made all their food bite-sized and clean.
How to Encourage Healthy Eating Habits in Kids
- DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT be sucked into the giant marketing machine of food products targeted at kids. They often contain more sugar and salt. They also will have fewer food faults (such as seeds from fruit or say, red areas on a peach from where it touched the pit) and can be more expensive.
- When introducing something new, don’t make a big deal of it. Don’t wince or squint or act like you’re half-expecting the child to reject it. Just eat it with them, like it’s no big deal.
- Be a good role model: Kids often mimic the behavior of their parents, so it’s essential to model healthy eating habits yourself. Eat a variety of healthy foods, limit processed and sugary snacks, and make mealtimes a positive experience.
- Involve kids in meal planning and preparation: Involve your kids in meal planning and preparation, such as grocery shopping, meal prep, and cooking. This helps them learn about healthy foods and can encourage them to try new things.
- Make healthy foods appealing: Present healthy foods in a fun and appealing way. For example, cut fruits and vegetables into fun shapes or colors, use dips like hummus or yogurt, or create a colorful salad with various veggies. (within reason! normal and boring is ok too)
- Limit unhealthy options: Limit the availability of unhealthy food options in your home, such as sugary snacks and drinks. Instead, make sure healthy options are readily available and visible.
- Encourage mindful eating: Encourage your kids to eat slowly, savor their food, and listen to their body’s hunger and fullness cues. This helps them develop a healthy relationship with food and avoid overeating.
- Reward with non-food items: Instead of using food as a reward, offer non-food items such as stickers, books, or playtime as incentives for healthy eating habits.
- Teach about the benefits of healthy eating: Educate your kids about the benefits of healthy eating, such as better overall health, improved energy levels, and better academic performance.
- Remember, promoting healthy eating habits is an ongoing process, so be patient and persistent. Encouraging your kids to make healthy choices will have a positive impact on their lives and health in the long run.
Those junk foods in mass packaging? Oh, but they were sooooo convenient with their little packages of stuff that I can just throw in a bag. And of course, all these items have the characters on them that they just love. I mean, a cracker that has the words ‘healthy’ or ‘natural’ in the name, and with Sesame Street characters, how do you resist?
Even those baby carrots! That is NOT what a carrot grows like! When we grew carrots in our own garden this year, I pulled them and showed them to my son who promptly snubbed them.
They weren’t cleaned and bite-sized and all smooth like he was used to. But they were carrots, grown right here in our own yard, without pesticides, from seeds that we put in the ground. That is certainly what I prefer.
7 Healthy Eating Habits
Keep in mind that with disabled children, you may have to modify these a bit. I know that “fed is best” and when comes to sensory aversions, there are additional challenges. Believe me, I KNOW.
Here are 7 healthy eating habits for kids:
- Encourage regular mealtimes: Establish a routine where your child eats at regular intervals throughout the day. This helps them maintain a healthy appetite and prevents them from overeating or snacking on unhealthy foods.
- Serve a variety of foods: Offer a variety of nutrient-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products. Encourage your child to try new foods and flavors to broaden their taste buds.
- Limit sugary and processed foods: Minimize the amount of sugary and processed foods your child eats, such as candy, cookies, soda, and fast food. Instead, offer healthier alternatives like fruit, nuts, and yogurt.
- Get kids involved in meal planning and prep: Involve your child in meal planning and prep to get them excited about healthy eating. Take them grocery shopping and let them choose fruits and vegetables they want to try. Involving them in cooking and preparing meals can also help them learn valuable cooking skills.
- Make healthy snacks available: Keep healthy snacks like fruits, veggies, and hummus readily available and visible to encourage healthy snacking habits.
- Encourage hydration: Encourage your child to drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Avoid sugary drinks and opt for water, low-fat milk, or 100% fruit juice instead.
- Practice portion control: Teach your child to eat appropriate portion sizes to avoid overeating. Use smaller plates and bowls to help with portion control, and encourage them to listen to their body’s hunger and fullness cues.
More Healthy Eating Challenges for my Kids
I bought a kids’ yogurt, and it was raspberry. My kids have eaten it a zillion times. Recently I bought yogurt made at a local dairy, vanilla flavored. It is thicker and creamier than most grocery store yogurts. It has more calories too, which we actually need.
I tossed a few locally grown, recently picked, raspberries on top….and they snubbed it. The complaints ranged from “it’s thick and weird” to “these berries have seeds!”
Apple sauce in the little cups? They gobble them up. Locally grown apples, which I peeled, sliced, and homemade crock pot applesauce….nope. “There are too many chunks in it.”
I looked at the label of the other applesauce to see that it has HFCS in it, among other things.
Peaches that are locally grown that I peel and slice-they’ll eat them, but not without complaining. They much prefer the ones packaged in little plastic containers. Uou know, the ones often covered in syrup or juice.
And we have these same battles over every food item I’ve made for them–from homemade chicken nuggets to salad to homemade spaghettios and tomato soup. Ok, admittedly I went too far with the homemade spaghettios and threw in some kale.
But trust me, without the kale they taste just like spaghettios.
I get it. We’re busy moms. And so much of this stuff is targeted at kids. And it’s also marketed as healthy, so you grab it and throw it in your cart. But if you can be strong now, it will pay off later.
I’m trying to turn our household around. More healthy eating. More local eating. Less processed stuff, more homemade. The marketing industry has convinced moms that cooking is just oh so hard, and really, it’s not. Because the thing is, it’s killing our kids.
So where do I go from here? I’m going to keep plodding along. It is actually getting better. We have added our eating issues to my younger son’s chore chart as a ‘deal breaker.’
What that means is this. No, eating meals is not a chore.
But, he must eat fruits and veggies with every meal and no complaints. If he does, no allowance for that day, even if he does all his other tasks. He also has to drink a certain amount of water each day before he can have anything else to drink.
I read someplace that a child must be introduced to a food at least 10 times before becoming accustomed to it and accepting it. The journey of 1000 bites begins with the first taste.
As far as my disabled son, his ARFID was so terrible that he eventually got a g-tube.
That turned out to be a great decision and I’m so happy with it. No more worrying about nutrition, hydration, and seizure medications. His health was just too complex and too fragile for us to be doing an entire song and dance several times a day to get him to drink water and take his meds (in yogurt or pudding).
I hope these healthy eating habits for kids make a difference for your family.
Remember, promoting healthy eating habits is an ongoing process, so be patient and persistent. Encouraging your kids to make healthy choices will have a positive impact on their lives and health in the long run.