Eating healthy isn’t just beneficial for obvious health reasons, studies show that healthy eating improves mood, energy levels, frustration tolerance, and can decrease hyperactive behaviors. Parents want their children to eat healthy, but oftentimes getting them to get healthy is quite a challenge. Looking for some help? Here are 10 ways to healthier eating for kids!
1. Calm down before you chow down- Trying new things, especially unfamiliar, healthy foods, can be scary for kids, so get their bodies as relaxed as possible before eating. Chronic stress also triggers signals in the body to pick unhealthy foods in an effort to temporary uplift mood (Food and Emotion).
If your child has less anxiety and fewer stress chemicals in their bodies, then your child will be better suited to try something new and healthy. Try this cookie dough activity or joint compressions to help with calming.
2. Use a food social story- Give your child a game plan before expecting them to try an unfamiliar food. Social stories help reduce anxiety and provide auditory and visual information about what to expect on the taste and texture of the food. You can make your own social stories or find videos of social stories online through sites like YouTube.com
3. Decrease sensory defensiveness- Just like deep pressure or brushing the skin have calming effects on the body, brushing the insides of the mouth with an oral sensory brush (like the one shown below) can help decrease tactile sensitivities in the mouth before eating. This will allow kids with sensory issues such as tactile defensiveness to tolerate a wider variety of foods.
4. Make healthy food look fun- Steal the tricks that the junk food marketing companies use and make healthy food look like more fun too. Use cookie cutters to cut out pieces of fruit or veggies into different shapes or characters.
5. Change up the consistency- Your kids may not eat fruit or veggies that look like plain old fruits and veggies, but they may love fruits and veggies that have been transformed into smoothies or Popsicles! Bananas, spinach, carrots, or mango are great in smoothies and pureeing things like watermelon, oranges, pineapples, or strawberries freeze to make great Popsicles!
6.Presentation is key- Food arranged in fun, kid-friendly designs like smiley faces, princess crowns, or superhero shields can be highly enticing for your child. Don’t worry if your carrot design looks more like a crooked line than a magic wand, kids have great imaginations that will make up for any imperfections.
7. Start with something healthy– Forget the typical order of a fancy meal, make something healthy like veggies your “first course” at each meal by putting them out for the kids to eat first, even on a separate plate if needed. After the “first healthy course” is finished, then bring out the rest of the meal.
8. Get active before you eat- Studies show that being active before eating causes us to pick healthier foods than junk foods so go play before dinnertime.
9. Slow and steady wins the race- Before all else, we all need to realize that eating healthy isn’t an overnight transformation, even for the most ambitious and motivated individuals, so a healthy heaping of patience is needed. Start by slowly introducing healthier foods while slowly cutting back on the junk. Going “cold turkey” with all the junk one day is just going to cause your child to become very upset and chance are, the health kick will be short lived.
10. Be a role model- How can you sit at dinner and expect a 3 year old to eat veggies and fruit if you are eating french fries? Children will watch and learn from your eating habits, so the healthier you eat, the greater the chance your child will want to as well!
Eating healthy foods is a big part to regulating your child’s behaviors and keeping your child healthy. Take advantage of the opportunity to guide your child into healthy eating choices while they are young!