We have dealt with the most important aspects of teaching your child to eat well in the past. This time I have used a different approach…

Learn from experiences

Below you will find experience of four families who changed their diet-lifestyle for the better and helped their children find a way to make better choices at lunch and beyond.

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Each narration has a takeaway message.

Family 1

I love to cook and cooked mostly every night, choosing to present healthy meals that were interesting and innovative. It wasn’t handed down as an edict that we were eating ‘healthy’ – it was dinner.

Dinner was dinner

No kids meals, dinner was dinner – eat it or not, but you had to taste the food. That idea was handed down from my parents. So was good cooking – lots of veggies, always a salad, and meals with family as often as possible.

Warning, not prohibiting

I did try to instill that sugar was not great (especially in breakfast cereals), but total prohibition is not reality. And a wise counselor once told many of us with daughters not to make food and weight an issue, warning of bad consequences.

Treats in moderation

My point is I would caution against depriving children of an occasional treat, or cookie. We did outdoor things with our kids, biking, hiking, sports, and that added a good dimension. We limited TV and computers.

My daughters now wisely choose their food and cook meals, both because they like to cook, and it is more economical. Do we all enjoy a hot fudge sundae every now and then? Yes.

“Cooking time is family time”

“Stay active”

“Moderation is the key”

Family 2

As a nutritional consultant, I wrestled with this issue a lot. First I had to accept that I couldn’t control everything they ate all the time, especially as they grow older.

Second, I lived by, “it’s what you eat most of the time, not some of the time.”

healthy eating for kids_2With this in mind, I made sure they always had a good breakfast and dinner when home and that the snacks in the house were healthy or at least a healthier option.

I taught them:

– If you can pronounce all of the ingredients and you know what they look like, then we can buy that.

– How to identify and calculate added sugar/processed flour in the foods they were buying.

– How to cook a few basic meals and what foods to always have in the pantry/fridge.

– What added sugar/processed flour did to their energy, mood, satiety, performance and weight. (Age appropriate explanation)

– I encouraged them to look online at the nutritional info of the eateries they were going to frequent. My advice wasn’t always well received or implemented, but it was heard.

Both kids, now as teenagers eat well. They see the difference in how they feel when eating right versus when they are not.

“Nutrition education is important”

Family 3

My friend who is of Asian-Indian origin recently cooked a traditional food for her kid who is in elementary school. It is a rice flour dumpling stuffed with fresh shredded coconut, powdered cardamom and coconut sugar steamed in banana leaves.

Tribal food?

That morning the kid’s teacher asked her class about their breakfast and when she explained what she had eaten, her classmates laughed at her and referred to it as “tribal food”!

Now the kid refuses to eat the healthy meals prepared by her parents and insists on eating sugary cereal, processed meats etc. so that she conforms to the mainstream.

Pressured to conform

How to explain to someone the pleasure of eating something steamed in banana leaves? Maybe we should teach our children to be accepting of different food experiences and have friends who can be good role models?

“Expose to a variety of foods”

“Food peer pressure matters”

healthy eating for kids_3Family 4

When my oldest child was 9, I decided what my family eats was my biggest responsibility.

I changed the way I offered meals, opting for family-style service. I didn’t talk about food and nutrition at the table and as a nutritionist this wasn’t easy.

The packed lunch crisis

I was in a dilemma just like any other parent when it came to instilling good eating habits. I packed their lunch for school, and yes, we had the occasional, “But I want a x y z too, like my friend,” and I responded to those requests with a ‘let’s make our own’ or ‘our family makes different choices’ or ‘that’s not really a food that will help you grow, but you can try it if you’re curious’.

Guidelines for the perfect lunch

I had guidelines for buying lunch- Choose a fruit/vegetable every day; if you choose dessert, that will be your ‘Fun Food’ for today. I let them make decisions but they had our family’s guidelines.

I divided food into Nourishing foods that we ate everyday and Fun foods that we limited to 1 or 2 per day.

When my 9 year old was 13, we went out for lunch and without my guidance she chose a plate. I knew then I was on the right track. Now, at 17, she makes healthy choices for most. She regulates herself due to years of modeling nutritious food, giving guidance and allowing choices.

“Children see, children do”

“You guide, let them decide”

The influences around us

So, in the face of ever growing choices of junk foods and corporate-created food messages, how do you teach children to eat a balanced diet, to snack in moderation, to enjoy foods that haven’t been processed to an extent that every bite makes us want more, and to make healthy choices when we’re with them and when we’re not?

This is where the parents need to step up.

As a parent we not only influence what they eat but control too.

I believe that one of the best gifts a parent can give to a child is the gift of a discriminating palate.

Knowledge is key

In the end we all want to eat those foods that give us pleasure and when children are surrounded by all the delicious real foods that the world has to offer, chances are that when they grow up that is what they will choose to eat.

If the treat of hot cocoa on a cold day is made from cocoa powder, sugar and whole milk you don’t need to tell your children that instant hot chocolate is yucky – they know it at the first sip.

Children aren’t born liking sugary peanut butter and processed food – that’s something they learn. Hold those foods up against the unprocessed ones and they don’t stand a chance.

Connect with Expert Harmeet Sehgal

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