I have a daughter who is 4 and another who is 2 and here’s what I’ve noticed: they watch me very closely. It’s easy to forget that in the day to day of busy life but I remember when I hear, “Mommy! Your seatbelt isn’t buckled!” as I pulled out of the driveway. And I remember when I hear them singing the songs I’ve quietly sung to them as babies and I remember when I see them turn to watch me react to them being silly and having fun.
The truth is my kids aren’t the best eaters. They go to birthday parties specifically for the cake and they would eat PB&J for every single meal if I let them. My oldest is terrified of trying new foods and generally sticks with 3 or 4 foods that she eats over and over and over.
I try not to let it worry me. And I try not to force them into eating what I’d like them to eat. I believe that within reason and inside of guidelines from parents, kids should be able to make their own food choices. I’m not talking about them getting to choose donuts for breakfast all the time, but offering a few healthy choices and letting them pick is powerful and helps to set up a healthy relationship with food from an early age.
Your kid’s food habits will eventually even out if they have been exposed to a variety of foods and are taught to listen to their bodies. My daughter has been saying “My belly is gurgling and telling me not to eat anymore”. I don’t fight that ever, even when she’s had very little to eat. I want her to know that she’s in control of her own body.
We live in a food obsessed world. We’re concerned with getting too many calories, not enough calories, too many carbs, not enough protein and we’re apparently constantly dehydrated. Eating disorders rule our schools and now we can add orthorexia nervosa to the list.
I don’t want my girls to have to add food to the list of things to be stressed about. And I don’t want to add it to the list of parenting things to be stressed about too.
The thing is – I know my girls are watching me. They watch the kinds of foods I eat. They listen to how I talk about food and they see me encouraging them to try new things. You are your child’s first and best model for how and what to eat.
Here are 3 simple ways you can encourage healthy eating at home.
- Keep the focus on healthy: Kids don’t need to know about calories, fats or carbs yet. Keeping the focus on eating whole, real and healthy foods and talking about where the food comes from is more interesting and way more beneficial.
- You’re the model: Eat a variety of healthy, seasonable foods yourself and your kids will notice. Talk about the healthy way a food makes you feel instead of talking or joking about gaining weight from food.
- Involve them: Giving kids healthy food choices works great. In my house, we talk a lot about where food comes from and we visit farms so they can see food growing in the fields. I also let them pick out the fruits and vegetables in the store each week and I encourage them to find the prettiest ones possible. My girls love to cook with me too. It’s way messier but they’ve always very proud of what they’ve prepared.
No need to pour over books about how to raise a healthy eater. Just be one yourself, keep a positive spin on health and get them involved and that healthy attitude is what you’ll pass on to your kids.