Food is one of the primary ways in which we provide for our children. Eating a balanced and healthy diet is a goal that parents should have for their child. If you’re struggling with your child’s eating choices, there are lots of action steps that you can take in order to help them to internalize positive eating habits. It doesn’t have to be a battle.
Eating is fundamental not only for health but also as part of the social fabric of the human experience. When you realize this, you can use it to your advantage and help your child to make more healthful eating choices. Suchada Eickemeyer explains the best way to do this is to eat together as a family, from the time your child is very young. This is a habit to develop as early as possible and to practice as often as possible. Even if you’re new to it, starting with your family no matter what your children’s ages will encourage children to adopt more adventurous eating habits. Instead of your child looking for comfort in a familiar food, they’ll find comfort in family interaction, which gives them the chance to look to a more wide variety of foods.
It is also important to model good eating habits for your children. No child is going to believe they should be eating their peas while mom and dad are eating steak and potatoes. Parent educator Rona Renner says children naturally model the actions they see. So eat what you want your child to eat. Share your food with them and show them how wonderful healthy eating can be. When they see your enjoyment, they’ll want to experience that happiness as well and so will expand their own palates. As stated above, eating is as much about socialization as it is about chewing.
Also, try exposing your children to lots of different foods. One great rule to have is the “try a bite” rule. Teach your child to try one bite, even a small one, of every kind of food you offer. Developing the ability to eat a wide variety of foods comes from trying new things. This can’t be just once, but must be repeated with the same food again and again. Once your child has tried a small bite of steamed spinach a dozen times or more, she will likely find that she doesn’t mind the taste of it anymore and that she actually enjoys eating it.
Parent educator Vicki Hoefle explains that missing a meal here and there or eating a lot of comfort food on special occasions will most likely not harm your child’s long-term health. Try to focus on creating a good relationship between your child and food. Don’t worry if your child takes a long time to learn to eat new foods, or if they always ask for the same few options. This is a long game and one that is about more than just one meal or even one week of meals. It’s about more than just food because eating is wrapped up in the way that we feel about ourselves. Keep working at it and give your child the chance to show you how much they can grow.