I am the mother of a very active 4-year-old, who eats a whole, plant-based diet. In other words, she consumes 95% of her daily calories from whole plant foods – vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, tubers, legumes, and grains. For us, giving her healthy foods means to keeping her diet as natural, unprocessed, balanced and as whole as possible, in order to provide her body with sufficient energy, a healthy immune system, the proper absorption of nutrients, and in order to be able to prevent diseases right now, and much later in life.
The foods she eats are rich in complex carbohydrates, fats, and protein with other health-promoting nutrients such as fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals which foster her growth in a very healthy way and allow her to develop healthy eating habits long-term at the same time.
It is a fact that:
- Most chronic diseases actually start in childhood. Prevention must start right from the beginning.
- What we eat during childhood affects our risk for diseases much later in life.
- Early habits should be healthy ones.
- We mainly feed ourselves to be able to function every single day.
One of the greatest difficulties we encounter right now is seeing through marketing and recognizing what foods are actually good for our children. It is true that children need macronutrients (carbohydrates, unsaturated fatty acids, and proteins) as well as micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to grow and develop in a healthy way. The questions still remain: from which sources and how many macro and micronutrients are needed?
First of all
We need to clear up what constitutes a healthy diet. A healthy diet consists of foods that are unprocessed, that stay in their whole form, have minimal added fats, sweeteners, preservatives, or salt, contain no saturated fats or cholesterol, and also preserve and protect the planet. It is extremely important to be able to discuss with and explain to our children which diets are best for their health and the environment as well. We need to make sure that as parents we pass on information about the relationship between food and energy so that our
We need to establish which source of energy does our body resort to first when it needs to gain energy to be able to perform in an optimum way all day. Carbohydrates usually come in first place because the body needs glucose to be able to function properly and to do this, it can take and convert sugar more rapidly from them. It is a question of effectiveness and making the least possible effort to get the best use out of something. Healthy fats are its second resource and proteins fall into third place.
Most of our health problems are clearly related to our diets and eating habits. Sadly, we may not see their effects until later in life. However, some of the most common early life health problems in infants, toddlers and children are constipation, asthma, eczema, obesity, and recurrent upper respiratory tract and ear infections. All of which are completely diet-related.
We need to remember why we actually nourish ourselves and explain it to our children. Our motto should be that the food we eat at home is amazing and delicious and it is ALSO going to give you enough energy for all your activities, help you develop properly, and keep you strong and healthy. Remembering this creates an opportunity for children to ask questions that really matter. It always resonates with the real reason and helps us stay committed to practicing healthy eating.
It should be mandatory to show our children how food grows and where it comes from. In this way, they can associate the first four points mentioned much more easily to their health and development. When they see it with their own eyes, they experience and internalize the reality of the world of nutritious foods.
Good news: at any time we can begin to make changes and improvements in our lives! Everything begins at home and, in this case, with the parents. We are their most trusted and important role models.
16 tips to get children to eat healthily and to enjoy eating healthily
- Model healthy eating: most of the time change has to start with parents. Children do as we do. In order for that to take place, both parents need to be on the same page and agree on what health goals are essential and important for the whole family to meet. Choose the patterns you want to follow and work together as a team.
- Only bring foods into the house that you want everyone to eat: Keep unhealthy treats for special occasions outside the house so it is much easier to control the consumption of unhealthy foods.
- Clean out cupboards: clean them and replace junk food with healthier options. Make healthy choices that are easy and convenient to grab whenever hunger strikes. Good options are nuts, seeds and finger foods like vegetables and fruits.
- Make house rules about foods and beverages (includes parents too!): teaching healthy habits includes self-control and healthy boundaries.
- Get your child involved in recipe planning and cooking: Let them take an active part in the preparation of meals and explain what you are preparing. If you can be flexible about the ingredients, let your child choose. Children who take part in the planning, shopping, gardening, prepping and cooking of meals are much more likely to eat the food.
- Simple dishes: keep the dishes simple and always include favorite and familiar foods in a variety of recipes.
- At all meals: keep foods separate and let him or her choose what and how much he or she wants to eat from each food.
- Eating together as a family encourages healthy eating habits: aim for enjoying dinner together as much as possible. Children can see the example put into practice and they also get a sense of normality and union.
- Make new dinners: do not overdo the dinners that you know your kids like over and over again – get them in the habit of trying new foods regularly. Let them know they can have familiar favorites too, and that it’s fun to try new foods.
- Make vegetables more appealing: cut them into fun and appealing shapes like stars or call vegetables a fun name. Use fantasy to your advantage and make it playful. Children love to learn in a fun way.
- Kids have to try one bite: let them know that they don’t have to finish their food, but they do have to try it. Let them know it takes time for our taste buds to adjust to new foods. Foods taste different depending on how they are cooked, what foods they are served with and how we feel that day.
- Be patient: do not give up if the child won’t t try the food for the first time. It takes time to build new habits. On average, it takes 8-15 tastes of new food to develop an affinity for it. Offer him or her the new food with a very familiar and well-liked food or try offering it to him or her in different sizes and forms.
- Apply strategies to stop picky eating: don’t make separate “child food”. Make one meal for the whole family.
- Avoid bribery at all costs: don’t tell your child, he or she will only get dessert if he or she eats his or her vegetables. It teaches him or her to hate vegetables by making them seem like a punishment and dessert seem like a reward. Let dessert be a part of the whole experience and do not serve it every day. Do not let it become habit-forming.
- Become picky again: make a list of the foods your child really enjoys eating and have it as a starting point when you do not know what to prepare or when you have observed that he or she has become picky again.
- Dining out: when doing it, choose the best possible option. Make all the effort of teaching your child how to choose healthier options in the real world because it is giving him or her a skill that will serve him or her for a lifetime.