As adults, we have been inundated with the well-meaning advice of "eat healthily" and "create healthy eating habits". You certainly know what it means for yourself (even if the advice can be hard to follow sometimes), but what does healthy eating and creating healthy eating habits mean for families- especially children and why does it matter?
Many diets (children and adults alike) involve a lot of convenience and takeout food. But these foods can be unhealthy. They can have a negative effect on you and your child’s health. However, having a healthy diet and focusing on nutrition are some of the simplest and most important ways to prevent the onset of disease for everyone, regardless of age. Healthy eating can help prevent many chronic diseases. These include obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. Around half of all Americans have one or more of these illnesses.
Healthful eating has many other universal benefits. For children specifically, these habits can:
Improve concentration and focus
Level out any mood fluctuations
Help maintain a healthy weight
Help prevent mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and ADHD.
Healthy eating habits are more likely to stay with you if you learn them as a child. That’s why it’s important that you teach your children good habits now. It will help them stick with these eating patterns in the future. This will help them avoid developing chronic diseases like those listed above at any point in their life. Plus, you'll feel better too!
The idea of getting your whole family on board to start eating healthier can be daunting. And, if you've tried only to be met with half-hearted attempts or downright defiance you probably don't really want to try again. The best advice when starting any new journey, like healthier eating, is to take it one small step at a time. Below are some small steps that you can slowly start implementing into your family's daily life:
Start with a balanced breakfast that includes protein: Yes, even for kids protein is incredibly important. Starting off everyone's day with a small serving of protein will increase focus and keep away any mid-morning hunger pains (this can be incredibly difficult for young children and might even help behavior problems at school). However, mornings can be hectic so always feel free to stick to fast, healthy options such as egg sandwiches, boiled eggs, yogurt, high protein cereal, and peanut butter toast.
Make mealtimes a priority: This can be a tough one if you have several evening obligations (sports, dance, gymnastics, etc.) so try to be as consistent as possible with making family meals a moment of togetherness. Not only is it considered a healthy eating habit (you get to role model healthy eating!), but it also helps you create stronger bonds as a family.
Get the kids involved in planning: At least once a week, consider letting your children either help with meal preparation or help pick out a meal. A healthy meal can go a bit farther if your child feels like they really had a say in it. You can also encourage them to help you pick out healthy foods at the grocery store.
Make small healthy food shifts: Small shifts (think buying low-fat milk instead of whole milk) are great places to start and can make a huge difference in your family's health over time.
Being consistent with healthy eating habits does not mean overhauling your entire diet overnight, nor does it mean restricting, obsessive calorie counting, or dieting. Is it still okay to have take-out once in a while? Absolutely! Is it still okay to have a treat after dinner? You bet! Modeling healthy eating habits include modeling a healthy relationship with food. If you become (or are being) overly strict with any food, even with the best intentions, this could be damaging. Like just about everything in life, healthy eating is about balance and it's just as important to teach this balance as it is to teach why vegetables help our bodies. Plus, balance helps make this healthy eating journey more enjoyable for the whole family!