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Good nutrition and a health, balanced diet are paramount for your child's mental and physical development. A proper diet during the early growth stages can go miles and stabilize the child’s energy levels, sharpen their mind, and even help stymie their tantrums. A healthy diet also boosts immunity and facilitates recovery from illness. However, it is not easy to get your child to eat what is really good for them as they are constantly bombarded with messages that counter your efforts. (Another reason to cut down on their TV time.)
Constant peer pressure and television commercials for junk food make it seem futile to urge your kids to develop healthy eating habits. What you need to bear in mind is that for children, it’s all about having fun. They are attracted to food thatis colourful and looks fun to eat, and also food that they had a hand in making. Here are a few tips you can follow to make eating healthy fun for your child and help instill the need to eat healthy in them.
1. Cook with Your Children
Kids are very proud of their accomplishments, so if they’ve helped make the dinner they’re about to eat, they are more likely to eat it. Enlist your child's help in making a dish and teach you child about cooking and about nutrition while doing it. Not only is it fun bonding time, but the mere act of creating something of their own will help develop the right side of their brain and make them enjoy the end product even more. (And in this case, that end product is a healthy and nutritious meal!)
There are also small things you can do to make eating more fun. Arrange carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, and bell peppers to look like a face on their plate. Make pancakes into animals and cut toast into a heart shape. Offer yogurt for them to dip graham crackers or fruit slices in and outfit them with a fun placemat – preferrably one that is also somewhat educational.
Involving your child in shopping, meal planning and cooking can help develop healthy eating habits by promoting a positive attitude for a healthy diet. And don’t forget to teach them ettiquete and table manners, includng how to set the table.
2. Decorate Healthy Food to Make it Visually Appealing and Fun
As I said before, for kids it’s all about fun, and they are more likely to eat food thatfollows suit. Offer raw vegetables in different colors and shapes and encourage them to make a vegetable collage on their plate. You can easily make a face using slices of cucumber as eyes, a baby carrot as nose and a slice of red pepper as a mouth. You can use watercress or shredded carrots or even some cheese as hair. Before you know it, you'll find them sampling their "art supplies".
Rather than serving a pile of vegetables beside a glop of hummus, arrange the vegetables to look like something — a happy face, landscape, a castle –whatever. It’s way more fun for kids to eat ‘the doorknob’ than it is to eat ‘the pea’. And although it removes the crust – which some kids don’t like anyways – consider using cookie cutters on sandwiches to make them more fun.
3. Make Small Substitutions to Their Food
Make small substitutions in their daily meals with healthy foods and veggies. Whole wheat/grain bread instead of white bread; fresh fruit instead of fruit snacks; baby carrots, bananas or apples with peanut butter instead of chocolate with peanut butter; etc. Make sure the substitutions are minimal and one at a time. Do not change the diet completely as your kid will refuse to go with a complete change to their food. And when they need that sugar surge, try substituting their carbonated drinks with fruit juices mixed with soda water – it never fails.
4. Lead by Example
Don’t think your kids won’t notice if you’re skipping the veggies. They will pick up on the smallest signals that you don’t like your asparagus. You can’t expect your kids to eat what you don’t want to eat yourself. Children adopt the behaviors they see in their siblings, parents, friends in child care and teachers. When you are introducing new foods and eating habits to your children, remember to talk about healthy eating in a positive way and try to make healthy eating for them as fun and interactive as possible.
Remember that you’re competing with fierce advertising from food companies who make their sugary treats seem like the coolest thing on earth. So stop trying to reason with your child that eating broccoli is good for them. That’s not fun at all, and it probably isn’t working. Even telling your kids that they should eat their spinach because it’s what made Popeye big and strong is a bit of a stretch these days.