Healthy Food Habits to Last a Lifetime

A recent study found that while kids are drinking fewer sugary drinks and consuming more fruit, 56% of American children still don’t eat a balanced diet. 

As pediatric caregivers, we understand that sometimes providing kids with the food that they prefer is the only way to keep them full and happy! When it comes to our picky little ones, instilling healthy food habits can seem like a tall mountain to climb.

That’s why we’ve come up with several ways to make the transition from nutritional imbalance to nutritional goodness a little bit easier.

Read on for 9 tips to help even your pickiest kiddos learn healthy food habits that will last a lifetime.

1. Model healthy food habits.

Developing healthy food habits starts with you! Children often mirror behaviors they see in older kids and parents in the household. This mirroring is a natural way for them to explore their likes and dislikes and develop over the years.

If you’re asking your children to eat healthier foods but you’re reaching for the high-sugar, high-sodium goodies, they’ll probably sense a bit of unfairness. However, if they see you making good choices, it will be easier and more natural for them to follow suit.

2. Remove unhealthy or processed foods from your home.

It’s a lot easier to make healthy choices when the unhealthy ones aren’t right at your fingertips. After all, everyone wants an after-school snack or something sweet to munch on after lunchtime. By changing the options that are immediately available, you can start to break the desire for processed foods and replace it with a love of whole, natural foods.

Start with little things. If you usually keep cookies and candy in the pantry, swap out the sweets for whole fruits like apples, bananas, and strawberries. If your kids crave crunchy snacks such as potato chips, keep a container full of cut celery, peppers, and carrots and a tub of hummus in the fridge.

3. Let them help with cooking.

Sometimes, the finished product is more intimidating than the individual ingredients. Your kids may balk at the veggie stir-fry on the table, but if they get to see all those snap peas and carrots before they’re incorporated into the finished product, they may warm up to the idea!

Plus, letting your kids help with the cooking will give them a sense of pride over the food they’ve created. This is a great way to make healthy mealtimes fun and interactive.

4. Start a little garden with your kids.

Once again, include your kids in the creation of their food—this time by growing it, yourselves. Small veggie gardens are manageable, fun, and great opportunities for learning about and connecting with our food.

Start with easy veggies like cucumbers, which tend to grow in abundance, and tomatoes, which you can grow in a planter. As you learn more with your kids, challenge them and yourselves to tackle more veggies—not just growing them, but eating them!

5. Stick to water.

We tend to consume a lot of empty calories in our drinks, whether we’re reaching for soda or juice. Keep these out of your fridge at home so that everyone in your household must quench their thirst with water.

If the lack of flavor is hard to combat in the early stages, take a pitcher of water and add cut up cucumber slices, limes, or lemons. Not only do these add a nice zing to your water but they come with a variety of health benefits, too!

6. Don’t push too hard—just offer healthy foods repeatedly.

If healthy food habits feel like they’re being forced, your kids may begin to think of them as a punishment. For little ones, especially, this could lead to the dislike of foods they’ve never even tried.

As we suggested already, limit the number of unhealthy options that are readily available. Then, make healthy options feel like a choice your kids can make. When you offer these healthy foods, make it clear that you’re excited about them because they’re so yummy, but leave it open-ended. 

“Do you want to try these fresh veggies I bought today?” you could ask. “They’re awesome! If you don’t want them now, I’ll make sure to save some for you in case you change your mind.”

7. Limit screen time.

Believe it or not, we tend to do the majority of our mindless, unhealthy eating when we’re in front of the TV or computer. It’s easy to consume way more than our body needs and pick up whatever is most convenient—which is often unhealthy—when we’re distracted by the screen.

Cut back on screen time and make more space for mindfulness. You can also use resources like Amazon’s FreeTime App to fill any remaining screen time with e-books and educational content.

8. Get up and play.

When we want to develop healthy food habits, it can help to start thinking more about our body and what it needs. Get up and play with your kids to start stretching those muscles and increasing that heart rate. 

When you play with your kids, you can challenge them to use their bodies and learn more about what goes into them. What kinds of fuel do we use before and after playtime? How much longer can we play when we eat whole fruits, veggies, and grains instead of sugar and carbs?

9. Start their dental care routine right after supper.

Sometimes, it’s hard to say no when our kids ask for a second round of dessert or a pre-bedtime snack. Who doesn’t love to indulge a little?

If you start a full dental care routine right after supper, it’s easier to establish ground rules about snacking. Rather than simply saying no, you can remind your kids that they’ve already brushed and flossed. If they eat now, they’ll have to do it all again!

Healthy food habits create clean teeth and gums.

When you establish healthy food habits in your children, they have a much easier time making healthy choices as adults. Plus, they don’t have to worry as much about cavities, plaque, or gum disease. Cutting down on sugar means giving your teeth and gums the fuel to thrive.

As always, Dr. Jaynes and the Plano pediatric team are here to help you and your kids make healthy choices! To get a check-up and a professional teeth cleaning, schedule an appointment with us today.