How to teach your child to eat healthy?

October 22, 2020

Every parent wants to be the best parent for their children. Parenting practices around the world share three major goals: ensuring children’s health and safety, preparing children for life as productive adults and transmitting cultural values. When it comes to insightful parenting, health becomes top priority and so the healthy food / right food. And for this, parents have to be the role model. A high-quality parent-child relationship is very critical for healthy development of kid.(1)

Why is RIGHT food so important?
Our body is the best gift we have. We are what we eat and absorb. Food is information. YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT. So each and every moment one must make sure to eat, drink, think healthy. If we try / take efforts to be healthy then we can be free from any health problems or disease(because disease is the result of a chronically dysfunctional system). We can live a life with unlimited energy and zest for life. This can be achieved with RIGHT food. Each body is unique so it needs specific nutrition which becomes RIGHT food for that person.

“Kids need to know that any food item they put into their bodies affects them,” says Danelle Fisher, MD, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. Parents can pass this message across by talking with kids about the food they put in their bodies, why it matters, and how they can learn to make the healthiest choices.(2)

What are the repercussions if RIGHT food is not chosen?
If food choices like processed foods, improper water intake, lots of sweets, fried food etc are opted then the person is heading toward health issues for sure.
One can experience any of the symptoms like lethargy, weakness, hunger pangs, digestion issues, muscular pain, poor concentration.This is all feedback the body gives to tell something is wrong internally. If this is ignored one ends up with lifestyle diseases. Lifestyle diseases starting at a very early age are results of poor lifestyle choices and stress in the present era.

How do parents imbibe healthy eating habits in kids?
Children imitate adults. Parents have to be their role model. If you tell your child to not eat chips but you dig into a pack of chips yourself, how is the child going to avoid chips the next time he/she sees it?
Thus, right from the beginning, cook healthy meals for them, do not entertain junk / outside eating too often. Whenever you eat out opt healthy options. Once the ill effects of junk / processed/ preserved foods are explained to kids they understand. Repeat this practice to imbibe these into their brain.

Here are some more tips to do this.
-Remove or ban / stop the entry of any junk / processed foods from kitchen
-Encourage RAINBOW color in food / plate. Make sure you have colorful foods on your plate.
-Continue this practice for a few days and then it becomes a habit.
Research says, a child refuses to eat a new dish 7 times before accepting its taste…So we need to expose them to newer tastes at least 7-8 times before they accept it.
MOST IMP– discipline, practice, repetition->habit
Parents have to teach kids to love themselves, listen to their body. Everybody is different. So one must look for symptoms and then work on them. Eating healthy is very simple. But understanding what is really healthy for your body is important. Once you know it, you can master eating healthy.
Recently I came across a book called Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear. - Be the designer of your world & not consumer
This book is a wonderful guide to develop good habits, routine at the atomic level which make them sustainable. I would highly recommend you to read this book. Just to give you an idea here are the major 4 points.
Step 1: Create your identity- future self (Whom you want to be, what kind of person you adore to be)
Step 2: Creating habits tracker- to track your habit which you do on a regular basis after waking up till you sleep…
Step 3: Mark them +1(positive) or -1(negative) based on the - future self- identity you wish to become.
Step 4: Then based on your habits scorecard, identify which habits will you like to pursue / create or break.
Habit Tracker + Desired Identity = Habits Scorecard (which gives us awareness of your behaviors) then make list of habits to create or break
Become the architect of your environment => Create visual cues -> every habit gets initiated by cue.
This will enable you as well as kids / teens to be healthy.

How do we teach a child to make healthy choices?
As mentioned earlier Be a role model for them! You can avoid junk in the first place and tell them why. The child sees you demonstrating this behaviour and copies it. Educating them about healing food and harmful food is quite useful. The earlier you can teach them, the better it is. You can try the following tips.
-Make it a fun game for them! Read nutrition labels together. . Ask them to look for the number of chemicals / preservatives added to foods.
-Tell them to search about these chemicals and make a diagram / drawing / flow chart / ppt and explain it to you. This helps them to read the nutrition label, understand harmful chemicals, ill effects of them on our body.
-Videos, pictures help a lot.

Can we eliminate junk food from a child’s diet completely? If not at home, the child indulges at some place outside. How do you teach the child to control / eat junk in smaller portions?
The answer is YES we can!. Just to give you an example, we had 2 patients at Thrive, one 12 yr old and another 15yrs old. Once they were coached and taught why it was important for them to eat the food that was right for their body, they absolutely avoided junk. Not just that, if they were invited to parties etc, they would eat at home and then go for the party. We’ve seen kids show that kind of self control that most adults would fail at.
Few tips:
-Action implemented in a group works better than done alone. So form groups of parents along with kids. Plan the event/ party menu beforehand with healthy options.
-Let kids participate in getting the grocery, pre preparation like cutting chopping, serving. This helps to make them self dependent, confident and more aware about health.
-Food choices which can be made are fruits / fresh fruit juices / soups/ salad preparations, rice preparations. iThrive’s website is updated with lots of these recipes including cookies and cakes.
-If not, Make sure the kid eats some food at home before leaving. Kids can carry healthy snacks to share at their friends' place.

How can you teach your child to like healthy food? Is this even possible?
YES! it is very much possible!
We eat food with our eyes before it enters our mouth. This applies to kids too.
-So use different shapes, natural food colors (beetroot / carrot/ red pumpkin, colored bell pepper, greens), different plating techniques to make it attractive.
-Add different flavors with herbs, lemon, tamarind, raw mango, honey, frozen fruits.
-Ask the child to participate in cooking.
-Let them enjoy eating healthy then it will become a habit.

Let us be the role model for the behavior you seek to inspire in them. Right food can do a lot of good in the body from impacting cognitive performance, fixing deficiencies to improving immunity, improving stamina, performance in sports and much more. If you seek any guidance regarding how to see a really healthy next generation without any of the chronic dysfunctions that I see in most parents, reach out to us at iThrive! We are right here to help you!

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Swatee Sandhan
Functional Nutritionist

Swatee holds a Master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition, is a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Diabetes Educator. She has close to 10 yrs of experience in the field of nutrition. As a coach Swatee’s commitment to Thrive’s values and to solving her patient’s health problems from the root and supremely efficient quality makes her an invaluable member of team Thrive

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