The Undeniable Reasons to Instill Healthy Eating Habits in Your Child Now
The healthy eating habits you teach your child now may have a significant impact on the rest of their life, according to 2017 research, even if they resist vegetables and other healthy options. Research authors explain, “Children are predisposed to prefer high-energy, -sugar, and -salt foods, and in preschool age to reject new foods (food neophobia). While genetically determined individual differences exist, repeated offering of foods can modify innate preferences.”
By providing your little one with healthy food choices, encouraging him or her to experience new flavors, and teaching about the importance of listening to their own hunger cues, you may mitigate picky eating, boost body image and much more.
Keep reading to learn more about why you should instill healthy eating habits in your child sooner than later.
Associate Healthy Eating Habits With Performance
Jackie Burning, PhD and RD explains that educating your child on healthy nutrition in relation to sports can be a more effective way to frame the value of healthy eating habits. In this way, you’re able to address the importance of healthy eating for their sports performance, something that likely means a lot to your young athlete.
Even more valuable is that this opportunity can have a positive impact on their body image as well. Burning says:
“Learning early in their lives to focus on the positive impact food can have on their bodies’ performance—rather than concentrating on things like body fat percentages and ideal weights—might help prevent some children, particularly young women, from developing unhealthy attitudes that could sabotage not only their on-field success, but also their health.”
If you’re not sure how to talk with your child about eating healthy for sports, meet with a pediatric dietician or sports nutritionist who specializes in working with kids. Just one or two appointments can inform your child and provide a base of knowledge to take with you as well. Check out Jill Castle’s book, Eat Like a Champion, for more guidance.
Reduce Picky Eating Behaviors
A study from 2017 found that exposure to a wide range of foods can be helpful for picky eaters. The study authors explained that, not only does taste exposure increase acceptance of formerly rejected foods, but that exposure via touching and looking can also increase familiarity and therefore enjoyment, of those foods.
When you eat a health, well-rounded diet, you automatically expose your picky to a wide variety of foods via taste, site and touch. Taking it one step further is important as well—instead of just exposing your child to the foods, teach him or her about these healthy eating habits.
Study authors call this “parental structuring,” which simply refers to your ability, as a parent, to support your child’s learning by teaching and helping, while also offering a certain degree of autonomy. Luckily, There are many ways to give your child this autonomy while providing helpful structure and teaching:
- Allow your child to choose foods at the grocery store
- Put him or her in charge of a dinner side, including planning, prepping and cooking
- Give your child two healthy options to choose from, allowing him or her to make a healthy choice for themself
Teach to Self Moderate
An important healthy eating habit is knowing when you’re hungry and when you’re full. You can teach your child how to self moderate in this way at a young age, suggests Dieticians of Canada:
“Encourage children to listen and respond to their signals of hunger and fullness. As a parent, offer your children a variety of healthy foods at their meals and snack times. Your children can then decide which foods and how much food they want to eat. Let children serve themselves healthy foods until they are full.”
To help your little one learn to eat according to their own hunger cues, Dieticians of Canada suggest a few simple tips:
- Offer regular meals and snacks each day to help children with their hunger. One great snack option is a Healthy Height shake. Just pour two scoops of Healthy Height Shake Mix (offered in vanilla and chocolate) into 4 ounces of water, shake in a blender bottle, and serve.
- Let your child eat based on their hunger and fullness rather than a specific portion size. It’s best to avoid pressuring or forcing your children to eat everything on their plate.
- Make higher sugar and higher fat foods available to your child in small amounts when paired with healthy foods. This makes it easier to avoid labelling foods as good and bad, and instead, you make them part of your child’s diet, alongside the healthy options. Check out our list of healthy homemade snacks; keep them in the fridge for easy access.
- Remind your child to focus on eating when they’re eating; turn off the TV, computer and phone to reduce distractions. Children can listen better to their bodies if they’re not distracted.
Set Your Child Up for Lifelong Healthy Eating
Healthy foods can feel foreign to many young children. Instilling healthy eating habits in your child now helps to overcome the challenge this presents by making these foods feel familiar, and therefore appealing. A 2018 review of current literature explains that when a child eats a certain food regularly, two things happen:
- Children start to shift toward the foods that they eat often. Research authors explain that those foods are “simply liked more.”
- Through repeated exposure, children learn that these healthy foods are not associated with any negative consequences, and are therefore safe to eat.
To ensure your child is eating a variety of foods regularly, make at least one new meal each week, preferably dinner. This gives your child a chance to experience the food, from cooking, touch and seeing, all the way to eating.
Instill Healthy Eating Habits Now
There are many good reasons to instill healthy eating habits in your child now. Focus on providing a wide range of options, encourage your child to try new foods often, and bring him or her into the kitchen whenever you can. Set your child up for a healthy life by making these important healthy eating habits a priority now.