As a parent, getting kids to eat healthy may seem like a mountainous task. In honor of National Nutrition Month and to celebrate the addition of the new Delta Health Pediatrics Clinic, we would like to present some “easy-to-digest” tips on how to incorporate healthy eating habits that will benefit not only your kiddos but the entire family as well.
Making healthy eating choices can be challenging, especially for children who are used to eating processed foods like fast food meals or bagged or boxed foods made in factories. These foods are filled with artificial flavors, sugar, and fats that exaggerate their taste unnaturally. Taste buds become used to these unnatural tastes. When a child is then introduced to more healthy, non-processed whole foods, their taste buds are not used to the more bland (by comparison) taste and they may refuse those whole foods. It will take time for your child’s taste buds to return to a state that recognizes and appreciates whole non-processed foods. The more these healthy food options are included as an option, the more your child will start to enjoy these foods.
When making healthy eating changes at home, it’s important to include the entire family, even the little ones. Enjoy meals together, and designate this as time away from screens and other common distractions in your home. This can allow kids to focus on the task at hand – eating! One study even suggested that families who eat meals together are twice as likely to reach the goal of consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
Meal planning can be another great opportunity to get kids excited about healthy eating. Children are in a constant state of learning, especially when it comes to food tastes, textures, colors and smells. To get started, ask kids what types of foods they love the most. When kids are excited about their favorites, that excitement can be used to drive the conversation toward talking about a new fruit or vegetable they would like to try. You can also make meal planning fun by highlighting each food group, including a special theme night, or by challenging kids to pick a fruit or vegetable of a certain color each week.
After meals, have kids “review” what they liked and disliked. Have them focus on textures, smells and flavors. Is this a meal or food they would like to try again? Why or why not? Let them ask questions, or talk about how the meal was prepared. You can even explore the flavors of different spices and seasonings that were used. Taking time to reflect on meals not only increases awareness of food choices and general food knowledge but can also encourage healthy eating behaviors in the future.
When it comes to healthy food choices and nutrition, setting the stage early in life can have a lasting impact on your child’s relationship with food. Don’t get discouraged when your child dislikes or refuses certain foods. It can take multiple attempts at trying a new food before your child begins to like it. Remember to take it one step at a time when making changes in your home, and keep those little ones involved! Including kids along the way can fuel their interest, and help to create a healthy, life-long bond between them and the foods they choose to eat.
For more valuable tips and resources on healthy eating for the family, you can schedule an appointment at Delta Health Pediatrics by calling 970-874-5777 or contact the Delta Health Dietitians and Diabetes Education Department at 970-874-6410 or visit deltahospital.org.
Dr. Amanda Lovette is a Pediatrician at the new Delta Health Pediatrics clinic and Jilleisa Jezak, RDN, CDCES is the Director of the Dietitians and Diabetes Education department at Delta Health.