It seems to be universal – the dislike that kids have for anything remotely healthy. On the other hand, the predilection that they have for all the unhealthy stuff seems as universal. Typically, the harried parent has little difficulty in getting junior to chomp down those chips drowning in hydrogenated oils and salt, the fat and sugar laden cakes. But present a bowl of hearty spinach soup or a colorful veggie stir fry and you have a veritable revolt on hand! So how do you as the well meaning but harassed parent get your kid to eat right; to develop healthy food habits that will last a lifetime?
Here’s a sneaky trick – before your kid is old enough to know what’s what, get them started on the healthy stuff. Before he even knows to spit out the spinach and choose the chips, set him right, food-wise. Let your child’s first foods be homemade veggie purées and mashed fruit.
Your kid’s already 8 you say? Already a devotee of Dominos and KFC’s favorite follower? Never mind! There’s still a lot you can do:
Set the rules for all; no sneaking!
Firstly you need to lead by example. Do you as a parent have good eating habits or do you need to be hit on the head to eat right yourself? In all fairness you cannot expect junior to willingly quaff down the plain fruit compote if you’re wolfing down the chocolate mud pie. Eat together as a family and ensure that everyone is eating healthy. So what if you have to pretend to make the happy face? It’s all for a good cause.
Get the grandparents on board
Indulgent grandparents – this is one of the problems parents have to deal with. “Oh! Just a can of Coke won’t harm her” or “Let him eat the burger – as long as he’s eating something”. We’ve all heard the adoring grandparents say things along those lines. You need to nip that in the bud. Gently but firmly explain – your kids, your rules. Perhaps not in those very words, but get the message across to those well meaning but misguided souls that you will brook no interference when it comes to the health, wellbeing and nutrition of your kids.
Let ‘em get hungry
Don’t offer food; don’t ask your child to eat. Heartless as this may sound, it’s a good idea to never let your kid know how important it is for you to get them to eat healthy. Also let them get nice and hungry. They say hunger is the best sauce – ‘they’ are right! When your champion biker comes in after a couple of hours out with friends, she’ll be ready to eat a horse! Don’t offer a horse, but do offer a healthy meal or snack and sit back in satisfaction as you watch it all go down the gullet. A little manipulation is in order here – sneaky again? Well, tell yourself, it’s for the greater good!
I don’t want to eat the stew wails junior. Your little heart shrivels up inside as you watch your child heap scorn upon the lovely, healthy meal you slaved over. But harden that heart! Do not offer an alternative. When your kid knows that this is what he’ll get; that it’s either this or unremitting hunger, he will become magically more malleable. That idea about letting them get hungry we spoke about above? Do that. Let them get hungry enough to sample the stew and then admit, albeit grudgingly… not bad, after all. A minor, but very significant victory in your kitty there! A little fortitude on your part and an excellent precedent set!
Remember to have fun
It’s a good idea to involve kids in the process of shopping for and cooking food; in making informed, healthy food choices. Take them shopping with you and in a casual, non-preachy manner (please remember that non-preachy bit, or your kids’ eyes are going to glaze over in boredom) chat about what’s healthy, why, what health benefits it has. Mention how food choice can help the body develop better immunity, remain fitter and more attractive and even develop better powers of concentration and memory. Involve kids in cooking too – so that they eat mindfully and appreciate their own efforts which went into the making of the meal. Ensure that meal times are fun, relaxed and happy family times.
Get the teacher to reinforce good eating habits
Involve her teacher in school. Hmm… we’re really getting sneaky here, but your kid will thank you once he is all wise and grownup. Ask the teacher to comment positively on your child’s lunch box; to hold up her food choices as exemplary before her class. Your kid will love those 10 minutes of fame. Who knows? Next time you’re writing down your supermarket shopping list, your child will have a few healthy food suggestions of her own?