Whether you’re an in-person grocery store shopper or prefer to order groceries online or a quick drive through pickup service, the food options are endless. From shelf staples to produce, dairy and meat products, choosing healthy and wholesome food for your children can feel hard, especially if they’re in toe with you during a grocery shopping trip. We’ve all been there before, right? Your perusing the aisles and the cereal box marketing jumps off the box and grabs your child’s attention and they need to have it, but, you know that the added sugar and laundry list of ingredients can’t be good for their bodies and shouldn’t be included on their daily breakfast option list.
Navigating the endless brands and grocery store chains food options can be overwhelming, but follow these 10 simple steps to keep your children nourished and healthy today.
- Natural is best.
When you shop for your family, the goal is to consider the entire diet for the week, month and year. As you peruse the aisles, aim to stay away from highly processed foods that include added sugars, high levels of fat and simple carbohydrates. The overall idea is to stay as close to natural as possible. Shop the outside perimeter of the store to fill your cart with produce, healthy dairy options, like yogurts, milk and cheese, and meats. Avoid grabbing items that won’t balance your child’s plate out correctly. Choose less packaged and more wholesome options.
- Lead by example.
There is no better way to teach your child about healthy eating than by doing so yourself. Show them the importance of nourishing your body and opting for healthy food options throughout the day, every single day. Avoid setting the nutritional bar high for your child while you snack on junk food. Children love to copy their role models, so choose wisely and set a precedent.
- Don’t nix snacking, as long as it’s healthy.
Society has shed a negative light on the idea of daily snacking, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Snacking is a way, outside of your standard three meals, that nourishes your body, keeps your glucose level steady and your energy balanced. Instead of allowing your children to choose from boxed, processed or packaged snacks, encourage them to choose things like greek yogurt, nuts, fruit or healthy grains to keep them full. A healthy balance of protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats each day is the goal and can be achieved with healthy snacking.
- Control portions.
One of the biggest ways to help your child establish a healthy relationship with food is through portion control. Don’t ever force your child to eat everything on their plate for the sake of avoiding food waste. Instead, encourage them to listen to their body to determine when they are hungry or full. Until your child reaches teenage years, it is best that you portion out their foods for each meal to balance their plates.
- Avoid a “no treats” rule.
Having a strict “no treats” rule can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. Your child may look at sweets and treats as something against the rules or taboo, encouraging them to want to overindulge or experience cravings for the foods they cannot have. Instead, limit sweets and treats to a once a week type of instance.
- Eat at home.
Although eating out at a restaurant is a great experience for your family, don’t make it a habit. Cook most of your meals at home to keep your ingredients as natural as possible. Often, restaurant options are high in calories, sodium and sugar and should be avoided on most occasions. If you do eat out, opt for the chicken selections with vegetable sides.
- Limit sugar and simple carbohydrates.
Children should consume no more than 12 grams (3 tablespoons) of sugar per day according to the American Heart Association. By avoiding packaged and processed food, you can significantly reduce the amount of sugar your child consumes in a day. About ¾ of all packaged food contain some level of added sugar. Simple carbohydrates are also found in a lot of packaged foods, which the body recognizes as sugar. Cut out sugary juices and sodas and increase overall water intake. Limit sugary desserts and cereals.
- Encourage picky eaters to try new things.
There are millions of children each year who parents define as “picky” when it comes to food consumption. They have their staple go-to options, but will avoid everything else, even if they’ve never tried it. Encourage your picky eater to try a variety of new foods, but only introduce one option at a time. Numerous options can feel overwhelming to them and they may turn everything down out of fear. With only one option, they are more likely to try it out. Only encourage them to try new options when they are hungry, as it is unnecessary to offer food during any other time. Make it fun by cutting the new food into their favorite shapes or characters and serving them next to some of their favorite food options, which will ease them into trying the new option more.
- Involve your child in meal decisions and preparation.
The more informed and involved your child feels in things, the more likely they are to understand and comply with your food structure. Invite them along to the grocery store on your next trip or let them pick out their favorite fruits or vegetables for each meal. Ask them to help you prepare their school lunches and encourage them to pick out options that equal a balanced meal. Once they understand the structure of what a healthy meal should look like, they are more likely to pick healthy options on their own, as they grow.
- Discuss the importance of healthy eating with your child.
Talk to your children early and often about the importance of a balanced diet. Discuss the negative effects that sugar and excessive fats can have on their bodies. The more involved they get on the topic, the more in-tuned they will become with their bodies. A healthy relationship with food starts young and is carried throughout the entirety of their life. Don’t be afraid to speak with your child about the significance of a healthy diet on all aspects of their life. Remember to avoid negative food talk and stick to positive body image language. Instead of saying a food is “bad” for them, you can use a phrase such as, “this particular food would be better replaced with this because of these benefits…”
Healthy eating should not be thrown by the wayside at any age. Begin talking to your children today and encourage them to live a life of healthy eating with the occasional indulgence.