Learning healthy habits at a young age is important for living a fulfilling lifestyle as an adult. Although it is possible to change bad habits later on in life, it can be much more difficult as you deal with the stressors of work, family and other obligations, as well as potential medical conditions brought on by a lifetime of bad habits. Teaching the importance of wellness at an early age can help set kids and teens up for a lifetime of healthy living. As a follow up to our nutrition blog on busting nutrition myths, here are some tips for parents to help instill healthy eating habits in children.
Start ‘em young!
The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends starting healthy habits during pregnancy. By following a healthy diet during pregnancy, women play a crucial role in the nutritional development of their babies. Healthy eating during pregnancy reduces the risk of children being born with birth defects and chronic health problems. Key habits to take up include adequate intake of fruits and vegetables, optimal ratio of carbohydrates-protein and fat, and prenatal vitamins and minerals, gaining an optimal amount of weight, participating in physical activity and avoiding harmful substances.
For optimal nutrition for your infant, the World Health Organization recommends exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months and breastfeeding with complementary foods from 6 months until at least two years of age or as long as mother and baby desire. In addition to providing the best nutrition, breast feeding reduces your baby’s risk of ear infections, respiratory illnesses, sudden infant death syndrome, obesity and hypertension. Benefits for mothers: quicker return to pre-pregnancy weight, prevention from postnatal depression, prevention from ovarian and breast cancer later on in life.
Be a role model for healthy behavior
As a parent, you are the role model for your children. Everything that you do your children will want to do. Therefore, adapting to healthy lifestyle habits for yourself will encourage your children to follow. Following a healthy balanced diet by eating a variety of different foods and exercising regularly will set a good healthy lifestyle example for your children.
Learning to eat healthfully at a young age can adapt your palate to preferring healthy foods when you are older. Psychology Today states that even if healthy food is available, college-age students will revert to eating junk foods available from their childhood when they are feeling stressed. Beginning healthy habits as a child could mean those junk food cravings are less likely to hit.
Some easy tips for parents to help instill healthy eating habits in children1
- Ensure that most foods in your home are healthy: That doesn’t mean sweets aren’t allowed, however there are healthier options like frozen yogurt, fruit smoothie, dried fruits such as raisins and dates that you can consider as alternatives to ice creams and sugary treats.
- Make healthy eating easy: Children generally choose foods that are familiar, easily available and ready to be eaten. Encourage your child or teen to eat more fruits and vegetables by making them convenient. For example, place baby carrots or grapes in small bags on an easily accessible shelf in the refrigerator.
- Model healthy eating. Children who see their parents or caregivers buying, cooking and eating healthy foods are more likely to eat healthy foods themselves.
- Avoid using sweet treats as a reward for good behavior: This is likely to counteract your efforts in encouraging your child to eat healthy. Making unhealthy food a reward for good deeds promotes the idea that healthy food isn’t as appealing as junk food or something to look forward to. Healthy eating doesn’t need to be a trick. Instead, teach your children to look at healthy foods as tasty and desirable.
- Have meals as a family. Family meals are a good opportunity to talk about healthy eating habits and engage your children in conversations about what a healthy meal looks and tastes like.
1 American Psychological Association. Healthy Habits for Healthy Families. Available from: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/healthy.aspx