There is no debate that for our children to develop optimal physical, mental, behavioral and emotional health,  good nutrition matters. Ideally it’s best to start when they are infants, so the healthier foods like vegetables become normal to them, not something they dread or don’t like.  Often parents who are moving towards healthy diet and lifestyles want to get their families on board. Here are 3 ways parents can build good nutrition habits for their kids:

  1. Modeling. There is no single practice more important for kids than eating well yourself. Just as we did when we were kids, children pick up behaviors based much more on what they see rather than what they are told. If they see you routinely eating vegetables and lots of color, they will eventually do the same as well. A double standard will hijack your credibility, so it would be ideal to start eating this way for yourself first before attempting to convince anyone else.
  2. Persistence with new foods. We all know getting our kids to eat a variety of healthy foods will ensure they get the proper nutrients. When introducing a new food, once is not enough. Research tells us that it takes up to 15 tries before a child will warm up to a different taste, so don’t assume that they will never like those green vegetables. Consider beginning a new table rule: everyone takes a bite of what’s being served even if they’ve tried it before and didn’t like it. This not only makes trying foods a part of the normal routine, but it increases the odds that they will eventually accept some or all of it. Give the new food a brief and calm introduction, but be careful not to make a huge deal about it either. Do not bribe, cajole or beg. It is a healthy food, good for them and it tastes good too. They are expected to eat it. If they ask, explain that eating foods like this are important for a healthy body and brain. Even if they balk, it’s important to stay calm and confident. Always include a familiar food with the new food, so as not to introduce too many new things in one meal.
  3. Don’t use food as reward or punishment. Many children grow up receiving sweets and treats as rewards for good grades, good behavior or reaching some milestone, while at the same time, being denied dessert or forced to ‘clean their plates’ as a punishment for bad behavior. This sets up an unhealthy relationship with food filled with mixed messages that can be taken into adulthood. Children may want to eat more sugary foods when they feel good or start using food to soothe and comfort them when they feel bad. Further, it interferes with children’s innate ability to regulate their eating. Let family dinner time be relaxed, happy occasions where everyone can be free to talk about their day and to share experiences. Let rewards be unrelated to food. A few suggestions: books, trips to a favorite place, and special outings with a parent.

Remember, you, the parent, are responsible for the food in your house. This is more of a modern problem, but many parents today cater to their children’s every whim and end up being short order cooks in the kitchen. We would never dream of leaving hands unwashed or letting them stay up hours past bedtime, but when it comes to eating healthier foods, there is lots of concession. Parents are not just facilitators, but guides and the authority on what is best for their children. Even the pickiest of kids are much more resilient and adaptable than we think. They can pick up on our confidence or lack thereof and act accordingly. We have to be a bit more firm; the foods they eat now will impact their health for a lifetime.

Contributed by PWC’s Integrative Dietitian Nutritionist Jena Savadsky Griffith. If you are interested in a nutrition consultation, Jena may be reached at 540-431-2397 or