You are what you eat. And nobody wants their kids to be junk.
That's all well and good, but how do you actually teach your kids not to go straight for the burgers, the cookies and candy made of 99% sugar while still keeping a happy family? Check out these eight tips for teaching your kids healthy habits:
Don't ban junk food
Do you remember when your kids first learned the power of the word "no"? Remember how frustrated and annoying that was for you? Now imagine how your kids feel when all you say is "no". They get cranky, they get frustrated, and they become fixated on getting their hands on the forbidden fruits (oh, if those were only real fruits!).
Rather than teaching your toddler when to accept no for an answer, scale back the junk. Limit the number of times they can have sweets and replace the other occasions with healthier alternatives. Explain how often they can have candy in a day. In the process, teach them something about delaying gratification - a skill that has been shown to predict future success.
Another fantastic idea is to let your kids eat "grown up food" like "grownups". Let your kids use utensils and bowls for fruits and vegetables; this will create an association between healthy foods and being a grown up. All kids want to be just like mom and dad, making them more likely to choose healthy options if they see you eat healthy.
Discuss school food options
If your school prints out the food options for lunch, make sure that you sit down with your kids and discuss those options. Sure, they might not always choose the healthy option, but at least they know which choice you prefer and the consequences of not choosing well.
Similarly, pack snacks healthy snacks for your children to bring to school rather than spending money on vending machine food.
Don't buy junk in bulk bags
While it isn't great for the environment, smaller snack sized bags are a lot better for your children's diet, believe me! These small bags allow easier portion control than a massive bag of cookies or chips.
Another bonus of buying smaller bags is demand. When you buy a smaller portion and you kids want more once it's gone, then that's unfortunate. However, if you buy in bulk, all that is keeping your kids from a second serving of junk food is your willpower. And let's be honest, when they are really persistent, that doesn't always hold out.
Give them what they like
If there is a vegetable or fruit they actually enjoy, make sure to include it with dinner. To further encourage them to eat vegetables, don't include too many starches during dinner; your kids will find it easy to fill up on potatoes instead of broccoli. Also, let your kids help you cook! Under your supervision, let your children add ingredients, stir or set a timer. Then, tell everyone how they made the dish.
For added fun, name the dish after your child; this will create a sense of ownership and pride that will make them more likely to try the meal.
Set the right tone
Especially in the case of younger kids, how you behave will be how they behave. So set a good example. Eat your vegetables. Don't complain about eating them and don't talk about junk food with big, glassy eyes; this will make them believe Oreos are the best thing since Father Christmas.
Get your older kids to help out too by not making disgusting faces during dinner. Your youngest might follow in their lead instead of yours.
Eat until they're full
Many of us were told to clean off our plates before leaving the table. That actually isn't good advice. By forcing your kids to clean their plates, they'll be far more likely to develop eating disorders, as they won't know when they're full.
Instead, let them stop eating when they're actually full. Ask them questions like "is your tummy still making growling noises?" or "how round is your tummy?". Teaching your kids to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full is just as important as teaching them how to make healthy choices.
Keep on trying
Don't give up if they turn away! Initially, many toddlers will think food is yucky, but if they see you and the rest of the family eating them and enjoying them several times, they might be far more inclined to try it themselves.
So don't let yourself get discouraged. Keep trying each time and you might be surprised with how many fruits and vegetables you can get them to eat!
Good luck and good eating.