Posted on 08/10/2016 at 09:38 AM by Lia Bahls, RD
Healthy eating habits start at a young age. Parents play a big role in the nutrition of their children and can affect their child’s eating habits positively and negatively. Here are some steps to take to positively influence your child’s eating habits:
1. Provide a “pressure-free” meal environment. This means the child is never forced to eat something they do not want to try. It also means that there are no rewards provided for the child eating their vegetables or cleaning their plate.
Never: bribe, coerce or force your child to eat. Consider what you are doing, and why, in regards to feeding; does it have some relation to trying to get your child to eat? If so, stop. This includes providing vegetables first and sweets last, playing games, and threatening, along with any other activity (viewed as positive or negative) that is used to encourage your child to eat. That decision is theirs and theirs alone.
In the words of Elllyn Satter, MS, RDN, MSSW: “You [as the parent] decide what to serve and when. Your child gets to decide whether to eat it, and if so, how much.”
2. Create structure. Have family meals at specified times. Let the child know that the food is available for them to taste and to eat if they desire.
3. Provide an example. Eat with your child. Avoid grazing while preparing meals and don’t speed through meals to get to something else on your “to-do” list. Take your time, enjoy your food and stop when you are full.
4. Allow for choices. When introducing new foods to your child, offer them alongside choices they are comfortable with. This lets them know that they have something that they enjoy and can eat. They may be less anxious about trying the new food when something familiar is offered as well.
5. Don’t become an order-taker. While you want to provide foods your child is comfortable with, you do not want to cook special meals for them. This creates a situation where the child now has control over what they are eating.
6. Be honest. You want the child to know what they are eating and let them choose whether or not to eat. This means no hiding. No spinach in the smoothies or mushrooms blended into the sauce (unless of course your child knows the food is in there and enjoys it that way).
7. Involve your child. If you have a garden, provide a small area for your child to grow whatever they would like. This is their garden so they will need to take care of it. Involve them in the cooking and preparing of food. When they feel as though they have helped with the food in some way, whether that is by growing or cooking it, they will be more apt to try a bite.
For more information and guidance please refer to the Ellyn Satter Institute. She has dedicated her life to educate on how to feed children. http://ellynsatterinstitute.org/