As parents, we want what’s best for our children. When it comes to eating, we generally have high expectations with them as infants, hoping that they will try new foods and learn to love fruits and vegetables. In reality, however, that is not always the case.
Children are often suspicious of anything new and certainly of any “mixed” dishes like a casserole where the food isn’t easily identifiable. Studies about how children learn to like food show it can take 15 to 20 exposures for a child to like a food, which requires persistence on the part of the parent. Of course, sweet flavors reign supreme on many young taste buds. So what is a parent to do?
One of the best ways to instill healthy habits in our children is by practicing them ourselves. Our children watch everything we do, which is often more powerful than what we say. By being a positive role model, we naturally influence our children. It’s surprising how quickly children pick up on even the smallest cues; if one of their parents is a picky eater, for instance, the children will notice. It is important to be consistent in practicing healthy habits and the rules of the table established at home.
Eventually, children will push themselves to try new foods if they are in a supportive environment where food is not pushed on them but where good behaviors are modeled by parents and the approach remains consistent at meal time.
Here are some other tips for fostering a healthy environment in your home:
- Eat a variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Keep fruits and vegetables front and center on the kitchen counter and easily visible in the refrigerator. Make it easy to grab these better options for a quick snack.
- Enjoy a treat occasionally. Eat it slowly and savor the flavor. Eating in moderation means we can indulge ourselves in treats from time to time and children need to understand what this means.
- Exercise regularly. While it is always great to find ways for the whole family to be active together, it is important that parents exercise regularly for themselves as well. Let your children see you enjoy physical activity.
- Practice positive language to promote a healthy body image. So often I hear parents talk about dieting or lamenting how they look in front of their children, which can send very powerful negative messages and affect their child’s body image. Embrace who you are and be comfortable in your own skin so that your children will do the same!
What are some things you do to foster a healthy environment for your children?
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