My mother tried her best to limit the intake of sweets and unhealthy foods while we were growing up. She baked everything at home and tried to oversell us veggies all day long. We would eat sweets all day at school and come home and complain about not being allowed to have sweets at night. She was losing the battle without even knowing it. And it is a battle. A very complicated one, I can fully understand now being a mother myself. I tried being the mother who doesn’t allow any refined sugars, but then birthdays started rolling in. No child wants a gluten-free refined-sugar free banana bread cake. Trust me I’ve tried. I don’t want to be the mother who says no either. All I want is for my children to understand the importance of what they put into their bodies and to prefer healthy foods over junk and refined sugars. But what three year old child cares about that? Probably none. From my own humble experience, I realized that educating them about the topic is the only way to help them make the right decisions for their body. Trying to control what they eat is a lost battle right from the beginning.

Here are some helpful ways we can encourage our children to make healthy eating habits and mindful choices for their wellbeing:

  1. GET THEM INVOLVED: Include your children in food shopping and meal preparation and cooking. Explain the importance of consuming fruits and vegetables and nutritious food that let their bodies grow. It is vital to teach kids that every food that they put into their bodies affects them and their health. When kids are involved in preparing their meals for schools, it is easier for them to enjoy them and be aware of why their lunchbox looks this way and why balance between the five food groups is important. Let them pick one thing they love and make sure the rest is healthy and tasty.
  2. LEAD BY EXAMPLE: Children want to be like their parents. Kids will eat healthier when their parents do. If your child witnesses a positive and healthy mindset about food and wellbeing from their parents, this energy is transferred to them and their feelings about their own bodies and health. Try to limit any negative comments about your own weight as kids start to focus on that instead of balanced and healthy eating. Avoid restricting foods or shaming your kids when they eat something that is unhealthy. They need positive encouragement that they should try to eat healthier next time.
  3. BALANCE IT OUT: Talk about portions more than good vs. bad foods. The word bad builds unhealthy associations with certain types of food and might create bigger problems such as hiding certain foods or eating them in excess outside of the house. Children need to understand that healthy eating is not limited to a certain type of food or that they need to completely avoid other foods, but rather eat food from different groups in a balanced amount. For example, sweets should be eaten in moderation and accompanied with a healthy home cooked meal.
  4. EAT TOGETHER: As hard as it may sound with the busy schedules kids have these days, shared meals as a family make a huge difference. Cooking meals together then sitting down and having conversations about the food and taste and health impact builds a comfortable and safe environment that shapes the kids’ relationship with food forever. Keep all conversations about food and weight positive at all times. A child who hears their parent complain about their weight or how they ruined their “diet” will build these negative associations and develop unhealthy eating habits.

In a world where unhealthy foods and processed sugars are readily available in schools and everywhere else, making sure your child is eating healthy all the time is not easy. What we can do as parents is provide them with the right tools to make sound and healthy choices and offer support whenever we can.  Parents need to understand that it is impossible to make all their kids’ meals fully healthy, but aim to have them consume as many nourishing foods as possible. The most important thing is that they grow up with high self-esteem and a healthy body image by shaping positive eating behaviors.

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