Building a healthy foundation for your children is often a daunting task in today’s environment of fast food, media indoctrination and immediate gratification. There are, however , a few steps you, as a parent, can take to make healthy living fun and achievable for your family, inspiring your children on the path to future health.
1. A positive attitude.
Children want to emulate their parents. Showing excitement and enthusiasm about cooking, in the kitchen, around trying new foods, and being active will light the spark in them to do the same.
2. Talk about origins.
The plethora of pre-packaged foods available in grocery stores gives you, and your children, little indication of where your food comes from and what real, whole ingredients look like. Teaching children the origin of their food creates a greater awareness to and connection with what they are eating. Taking children to a farmers’ market, growing a vegetable garden, or visiting a local farm in the summer for berry picking are a few of the fun family activities that will educate your children on what real food looks like and what its origins are before it gets onto the dinner plate.
3. Involve children in menu planning.
Empowerment and responsibility allow your child to take ownership and pride in what they are eating. Let your child be involved in the family meal planning. There will be no element of surprise with what lands on their dinner plate and there is less resistance when they have taken part in the decision making. With some guidelines, involve your children in weekly menu creation, allowing them some choices in how they fuel their bodies. Let the creativity flow and allow to process to be the foundation for building on old favorites and creating new recipes. This will also teach them the skills and tools necessary to plan and make their own healthy meals when they are old enough and ready. Smoothies are always a popular option with children. Allowing them to pick from a number of ingredients means each recipe can be a unique mix-and-match experiment
4. Enlist help with meal preparation.
Find an age appropriate task for your child and enlist their help when making a meal or snack. A really young child can help with getting ingredients from easy to reach places; an older child can be responsible for prepping part of a dish, or creating a side dish. Your children will be more likely to want to partake in a meal they have been a part of creating.
5. Home-made sweet treats replace store bought.
You have control of every ingredient in a home-made treat. This is the only way to avoid the processed ingredients, preservatives, colorants and additives which form the backbone of many manufactured indulgences. Again, involve your children in the choice and preparation, making the treat a well earned indulgence. My cookbook has over 25 grain-free, dairy-free and refined sugar-free treats that will satisfy even the most discerning of a sweet tooth.
6. Focus on the good stuff
Focus on the positive aspects of healthy living. Talk about the foods they CAN eat, the activities they CAN do, rather than telling them they can’t. (I give this advice to my adult clients too!) It can be challenging if your child has a food allergy or sensitivity, but you can empower your child to choose feeling healthy and good over feeling sick.
7. Play with your food
Depending on the rules you and your family have around dinner, this can be separate from your meal time. There are so many creative things to do with vegetables – cauliflower sheep, cucumber frogs, tomato lady bugs, carrot flowers. These foods never seem as scary or unapproachable if they have been previously played with.
8. Be sneaky with your smoothies
When it comes to smoothies, let your children pick their ingredients and encourage them to make each recipe a different mix-and-match experiment.
For finicky eaters, sneaking some greens into the smoothie ensures your child is getting the necessary phytonutrients. For those taking encapsulated supplements and having hard time swallowing pills, you putting the contents in the smoothie can also make them easier to take. You can also add a probiotic powder (a necessary addition to our modern diets) or an unflavoured protein powder.
9. Scavenge through the grocery store
Make a list of things each child is in charge of finding. you can also try giving them label-reading responsibilities so they can begin to learn about ingredients.
10. Make moving fun
Children struggle with exercise and moving their bodies when they feel forced into an activity or a sport. Spend time figuring out their interests and strengths so that they are able to purse an activity they will be excited to do.
No need to do everything all at once, pick one or two suggestions and when they become part of your daily lives, moves on to others. Wellness and feeling your best is a journey, for you, and your children.