If you’re like many parents, you want to establish healthy eating habits for your child when he or she is young. While early childhood is the best time to establish these foundations, it doesn’t have to be stressful for you. Kids have a natural healthy relationship with food, so all you have to do is cultivate and promote it. Forget the idea that you have to offer only organic or the “healthiest” foods, which may create more problems than you intend.
Instead, focus on these six pillars to promote building a strong foundation — all while eliminating the power struggle and anxiety.
1. OFFER A VARIETY
Let your child have the full experience of food through color, taste, texture and smell by offering a wide variety of foods. Even give them things you don’t like or think they won’t. A diet with a wide variety of nutrients is better for adults and kids alike, and you’re helping to minimize picky eating and food issues down the road.
2. DEMONSTRATE EXCITEMENT AND CURIOSITY TOWARD FOOD
Kids are naturally curious, and you know they have a lot of energy. Set the example toward food by getting curious and excited with them. Doing so will help set their relationship with food and encourage them to have fun while trying something new. If you have a negative mindset toward food or eating, they will pick up on it.
3. HAVE FAMILY MEALS
Sitting down to eat as a family is beneficial for numerous reasons. For young children, it helps deepen their relationship with you and helps them relax when getting comfortable with the eating experience. It also gives you the chance to model healthy eating practices.
4. DESIGNATE TIMES AND PLACES TO EAT
You may find your child asking you to feed them around the clock. Set certain times to eat meals and snacks and eat while sitting down at the table or in the highchair. Not only does this reduce mess and crumbs all over your house, but it helps them focus on their food, reduces risk of choking and helps them feel hunger and fullness cues instead of eating out of boredom.
5. TURN OFF THE TV
Reduce the temptation to sit your child in front of the TV to eat. Removing this distraction will help them listen to their body for when they’re full, savor the taste of food and help them connect with you.
6. GET THEM INVOLVED
Involve your child in the process of picking out food, safely preparing it at home and serving it on his or her plate. Supervise the process, but help them feel more in control and curious so they have a better chance of eating it.
Want to learn more? Check out the Ellyn Satter Institute at ellynsatterinstitute.org.
Alyssa Ashmore is a registered dietitian nutritionist who wants you to enjoy eating without stress or shame. She can be reached at email@example.com, or visit www.alyssaashmore.com to learn more.