How do I get my kid to make healthy choices for their food, instead of just eating junk?

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Answered by: Malia, An Expert in the Cooking for Kids - General Category
Children are no different than adults in sometimes wanting what they want without paying attention to the consequences. How many times in your own life have you actually preferred a salad over cake? Probably very few. Yet many times, you have made the healthier choice, having learned to ignore what your taste buds want in favor of what your body needs. In learning to make healthy choices, rather than impulsive choices, your kid is learning how to balance wants with needs. This is a very big issue, and is very hard to deal with! Here are some suggestions.

First, you must always remember that the goal is to teach THEM to make healthy choices. This means that you are not making the choices for them, and this means that there must be no forbidden foods. Unless there is a health issue like an allergy or sensitivity, you should have a wide variety of options open to them. Having no sugar in the house pretty much guarantees an eventual binge at some point. Remember, we are teaching them balance, not abstinence.

Second, you need to educate them on how to choose wisely. I do not recommend trying to explain to your preschooler the difference between proteins, fat, and carbohydrates. However, most kids can quickly pick up on the idea of foods your mouth wants and foods your body wants. Chocolate? Yum to the mouth but yuck to the tummy. Any kid that has experienced Halloween probably has their own insight on that topic that just needs to be clarified. There are books and videos to help you put things into kid language, but it can also be as simple as teaching them that the outside of the grocery store is usually much better for their bodies than the aisles.

Third, you will need to talk to them about why their food choices are important. From doctors to dentists to personal trainers, there are many sources for this information. You will need to assess where your child’s personality will intersect with a reason. Do they care about their teeth? Talk to your dentist. Do they love their pediatrician and would do anything they say? That’s who to have talk to them about the importance of vegetables. Do not hesitate to use anything you can to make a point. If pictures of people with calcium deficiencies can help your child to drink milk, use them.

Finally, and most importantly, do not underestimate your own example. You can say anything to your child that you’d like, but if you are a person who responds to a hard day with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, that will speak louder to your child than any of your words. Show them what it is like to make healthy choices, and show them the positive impacts that it has on your life to do so. As with most parenting issues, you are the main example of their lives, so use your position well.

Use any of all of these, an integrate your knowledge of your own child’s interests and personality. Do not expect perfection, especially right away, but over time, your child will learn how to balance treats with healthy eating.

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