Feeding a family without losing your sense of humor or your sanity can be challenging—but not impossible. Here are some suggestions for helping your family develop healthy eating habits, offered by Heather Fink, a registered dietitian and consultant for Indiana University Health Sports Performance.
Explore the gamut of food. “Kids can end up with a narrow range of preferences if parents don’t serve a variety of food,” Fink says. She encourages parents to keep introducing foods in different ways, including items that are not family favorites. Adults and children need to develop their tastes over time; a food that was previously shunned may eventually become a favorite. Be persistent and creative.
Help kids learn moderation. In moderation, all foods fit into a healthy diet. Parents can help children develop a healthy attitude toward food by introducing variety, encouraging them to eat when they are physically hungry and stop when they are satisfied.
Snacking is encouraged. While kids are growing, they may want a snack between meals, especially if they are involved in sports. Providing snacks supplies energy consistently throughout the day and teaches children to listen to their internal hunger and satiety cues. Try these healthy snack options: fruits, vegetables with hummus, yogurt, cottage cheese, cereal with milk, banana bread with nut butters, cheese and crackers, hard boiled eggs or homemade trail mix.
Involve kids in making decisions about meals. Ask your kids, “What sounds good to you?” By engaging the family, parents can teach skills that are necessary for a lifetime of healthy eating. “While in grade school and high school, children should develop skills for cooking and eating on their own,” Fink says. Let them help plan a meal, prepare a grocery list, shop at the grocery or take a turn cooking.
What if your child won’t eat what’s served? It’s one thing to solicit involvement, but you shouldn’t become a short order cook. “Encourage them to taste things and eat what they can,” Fink says. They may become hungry later if they don’t eat what’s served, but a healthy snack is a reasonable alternative.
Be a great role model. The pickier you are about food, the more likely your kids will follow suit. “Kids are much more likely to accept a food if they see you eating it,” Fink says.
Get smart. If satisfying your family’s preferences is frustrating you, consult other resources. Fink’s recommendation: Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family, by Ellyn Satter.