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Teaching Healthy Eating Habits

By Claudia Anrig, DC

Many parents have a daily challenge that goes something like this: "My kids are picky eaters." Often, this challenge boils down to their children's tendency to avoid vegetables, but it can include avoidance of numerous other foods - usually the healthy variety. What's the solution? While there really isn't a single easy answer, much of this challenge actually stems from your own relationship with food, meaning that many of your childhood habits have persisted into adulthood and are now being passed on to the next generation.

Why It's Happening

Your child enters this world not knowing what they hate or love about food; for the most part, kids learn by example. If you hate vegetables and never eat them, chances are your children won't be very willing to try vegetables - and you may be not be particularly interested in serving them. After all, you'll want to serve the foods you generally eat. If you're a well-balanced, healthy eater, you're on the right track, but it doesn't necessarily mean you won't have some picky-eater challenges to deal with. However, if you're a picky eater stuck on a fairly limited number of not-so-good-for-you foods, you're creating the consummate unhealthy picky eater by your actions, perhaps without even realizing it.

What You Can Do: 9 Strategies

1. Start With You. Where do you begin? It starts right now, whether you're already a parent or expecting your first child. Start by reviewing your personal relationship with food. Consider how you and your significant other will blend or create new food relationships, and expand your knowledge or cooking base by researching books and Web sites that take a wellness approach to raising healthier children. This is all part of developing a clear strategy for raising your family. It includes the family's moral compass, discipline and education, of course - and a snapshot of your family in terms of "what in our background could create food issues for our kids," and the nutritional lifestyle that will grow and fuel your children's development.

2. You're the Motivator. If you've already created a picky eater, don't be nit-picky with them (remember, it was you who unintentionally contributed to their picky eating habits). Start by reviewing a week in the life of your family and what everyone eats and drinks, and then divide your dietary lifestyle into two categories: Wellness/Healthy or Processed/Packaged/Unhealthy. Then add a third column, New Strategy, where you can add food items that will help the family get where it needs to go in terms of better eating habits. Evolve your family into the healthier lifestyle, and remember, the motivation has to come from you first.

3. Introduce Variety Early. Regarding infants, it's ideal to go from breast-feeding to organic baby food, and then consider making your own. Develop a strategy to introduce a wide variety of vegetables, remembering that the greener they are, the more vitamins and minerals they contain, and that vegetables with bright color bring antioxidants to your children's diet. To prevent your child from developing a sugar addiction, avoid fruit juices, candy, ice cream and baked goods. The only sugar they should experience growing up should come from natural fruit. It's just too easy to get addicted to processed, overly sweetened foods; they'll have plenty of time for the occasional treat when they're older and have already developed a well-rounded, healthy diet.

4. Say No to Processed Foods. Avoid the trap many parents have fallen into, that of buying snacks marketed specifically by the manufacturers to start unhealthy habits. Children's cereals, colored crackers, cookies and the like are not healthy choices when you see the processing, dyes, and artificial flavors added to make these items "fun" to eat. Also keep in mind that two of the leading food allergies for children are wheat and corn (the latter more often in the form of a sweetener or additive in food products).

5. Think Healthy Snacks. Prepackaged toddler foods seem to be the "in" foods these days, marketed as great for kids and easy for parents. Instead of buying into the marketing hype, pre-plan healthier options for your family. Finely chopped vegetables like red or yellow peppers, shelled snap peas, steamed broccoli heads or zucchini are better than prepackaged items; so are natural fruits - but not fruit rolls and juices, which are high-glycemic. Many whole- o...

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