You already know the benefits of healthy eating, and you try to eat well. So what's keeping your family from eating high-quality foods -- a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein? And how can you help them eat better?
Here, experts suggest how you can make healthy eating a habit. Plus, they offer tips on how to make it fun for preschoolers, grade-school kids, and teens.
Here are 10 tips for getting children to eat healthy food and form wise nutritional habits, offered by Melinda Sothern, PhD, co-author of Trim Kids and director of the childhood obesity prevention laboratory at Louisiana State University.
1. Avoid placing restrictions on food.
Restricting food increases the risk your child may develop eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia later in life. It can also have a negative effect on growth and development. Instead of banning foods, talk about all the healthy, nutritional options there are -- encouraging your family to chose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat dairy, while avoiding heavily processed, low-quality junk foods.
2. Keep healthy food at hand.
Children will eat what's available. Keep fruit in a bowl on the counter, not buried in the crisper section of your fridge. Remember, your child can only choose foods that you stock in the house. And have an apple for your own snack. "Your actions scream louder than anything you will ever tell them," says Sothern.
3. Don't label foods as "good" or "bad."
Instead, tie foods to the things your child cares about, such as sports or doing well in school. Let your child know that lean protein such as turkey and calcium in dairy products give them strength for sports. The antioxidants in fruits and vegetables add luster to skin and hair. And eating a healthy breakfast can help them keep focus in class.
4. Praise healthy choices.
Give your children a proud smile and praise when they choose healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, or low-fat dairy.
5. Don't nag about unhealthy choices.
When children choose fatty, fried, unhealthy foods, redirect them by suggesting a healthier option.
Instead of regular potato chips and dip, offer baked tortilla chips and salsa.
If your child wants candy, try dipping fresh strawberries in a little chocolate sauce. Too busy? Keep naturally sweet dried fruit at home for quick snacks.
Instead of buying French fries, try roasting cut up potatoes in the oven (tossed in just a bit of oil).
6. Never use food as a reward.
This could create weight problems in later life. Instead, reward your children with something physical and fun -- perhaps a trip to the park or a quick game of catch.
7. Sit down to family dinners at night.
If this isn't a tradition in your home, make it one. Research shows that children who eat dinners at the table with their parents have better nutrition and are less likely to get in serious trouble as teenagers. Start with one night a week, and then work up to three or four, to gradually build the habit.