Maybe you have been giving in to your child’s desire for junk food a bit more often than you should and are trying to change that. Maybe you have just recently hopped on the healthy eating bandwagon and are now tasked with overhauling your family’s whole diet.
Whatever the case, you are liking constantly being reminded that kids love their junk food. Trying to get them to change their ways can be challenging to say the least, especially if they are younger. This is primarily because they are too young to understand, or care, about the long-term effects of an unhealthy diet. With this in mind; reasoning with them won’t get you very far. They live in the moment, and they want their treats, and they want them now! It might be challenging; it might take some trial and error with various techniques and, most importantly, it will require patience. But there is hope. Here are just a few tips for getting your children to embrace healthier food choices, and maybe actually grow to prefer them.
Don’t Try to Change Everything Overnight
Your child is young and has plenty of time to bounce back from any unhealthy habits he may have picked up until this point in his life. Don’t feel pressured to completely do a 180 with his diet within three days. If you want to steer him off juice and soda, for example, don’t make him go cold turkey. Start introducing water at least a couple of times a day instead. If you want to save money, skip the bottled, invest in a quality filtering product like LifeSource’s whole home filters. Slowly introduce new foods and don’t put too much pressure on him to eat it all up. Find ways to modify current dishes to infuse healthier ingredients, and slowly move towards completely new, healthier versions.
The Hard Line May Not Be the Best Approach
Any parent knows that sometimes, to get things done, you have to get a bit tough. You may need to force things a bit. At first glance, it may seem effective to withhold some sort of reward until your child finishes all that cauliflower, or completely clearing the house of junk food, leaving them without any of their beloved treats. But, when it comes to getting your child to eat healthier, this may not be the best tack.
A study conducted at the Baylor College of Medicine gathered information from parents about their methods for getting their children to eat better, and grouped these strategies into four broad categories. There was ‘firm discipline’ which involved methods like not allowing dessert unless the child finished all their veggies. There was the ‘practical’ approach, which involved doing things like altering the food in some way to make it more appetizing. Then there were the ‘teaching moments,’ like requesting the child try a certain item, and if he didn’t like it, he could leave it on the plate. Last, was the ‘increased availability and accessibility’ approach, which is pretty self-explanatory. The parents simply made healthier foods more readily available in the house, and made it easy for their children to get their hands on them—like putting together a Tupperware container full of cut fruit in the fridge, all ready to go.
Interestingly, no matter what approach was used, the children fell short of the recommended daily servings (so don’t feel so bad if you are struggling, you are not alone). But, approaches falling under the umbrella of “teaching moment” and increased availability/access were much more effective than the other two types of strategies. These methods involved being more proactive in getting the child to eat better, while the less effective dealt with responding to a child’s resistance, which can set a ‘bad tone’ for your efforts.
Increasing Visual Appeal
We are visual creatures, and how food looks makes a big impact on its appeal; this is particularly true of children, who can be the pickiest of picky eaters. One study asked children and adults to look at 48 different combinations of food, and rank their appeal. When it came to the children, the highest ranked ‘plate’ contained six different items in seven different colors—the main part of the meal was located at the bottom of the plate, and the food was arranged in some sort of picture. So, presenting a colorful variety of foods may lead to increased interest and consumption.