In San Diego County, only 26-27% of kids age 2-17 eat five or more fruits and veggies in a day.
Many parents know the dinnertime struggle of getting kids to eat their fruits and veggies instead of demanding macaroni or sweets. Mealtime becomes a battle in many households as you try to get your kids to eat healthier. So, we’ve gathered realistic strategies and tips for encouraging children and teens to eat healthier, which helps to make mealtimes run a bit smoother.
Meal Planning for Healthy Eating
Deciding what to make for dinner is probably the last think you want to do after balancing work, school, and increasing online demands. Meal planning can help take the guesswork out of dinner time and alleviate some stress on a parents’ already-busy day. While meal planning may seem overwhelming at first, it can help you pre-plan healthier meals and snack options for your children. When you commit to shopping for certain ingredients based on your menu, you might find you buy fewer sugary snacks, spend less, and create better meals.
One part of meal planning that can often be overlooked is what your family drinks. Try setting some rules around what drinks are allowed at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and all the times in between. Incorporate more water breaks into the day. A way to encourage your children to drink more water is to lead by example. You may also want to provide only 2 or 3 healthy drink options at mealtimes so your children can choose for themselves.
Offering Healthy Choices for Your Kids
Providing your children with choices is a great way to provide them with ownership over what they put in their body and encourage them to take more responsibility for their healthy habits. A meal plan with options helps your children establish their independence while keeping you, the parent, in control of their nutrition and healthy eating habits.
Incorporate a variety of healthy food options for your children, especially at a young age. Introduce new options alongside their tried-and-true favorites to encourage a positive association with healthy foods you think they will enjoy. As your children grow up, they are developing their own food preferences and tastes. Healthier options help them make better choices. If your children are curious and interested, involve them in the selection process, like visiting the local farmer’s market and learning how to pick out certain types of fruits and vegetables.
Personalizing Your Child’s Plate
Another way to make mealtimes more fun and engaging is to personalize your child’s plate. Younger children may enjoy food that is presented in a funny, silly, or interesting way. Perhaps you celebrate certain holidays by arranging foods on the plate in a certain shape or character. This can keep kids engaged and interested in what they are about to eat. You can also encourage your children to get more involved in choosing what foods go on their plate. As children get older, they may enjoy the autonomy of making their own, individualized choices. You may prepare a dinner that involves a protein and three veggies, and then allow them to choose two of the three. A variety of foods, including different flavors and textures, will help keep things exciting.
Avoiding Distractions During Mealtime
If your children still struggle with eating healthy and reject all the options put in front of them, you may also want to avoid other distractions. Turn the TV off during mealtimes and restrict phone and tablet usage while you’re at the table. Sometimes children get overstimulated by everything going on in the room and making decisions can feel overwhelming. Quiet down the space and make time to focus on the food at hand. Avoiding distractions during mealtime can also help children avoid overeating simply because they aren’t paying attention to whether their tummies are full or not. This can also provide more mindful eating where your child may notice more about the colors, flavors, and textures of the yummy foods they are eating.
Keeping Healthy Ingredients Around
Many sugary snacks are designed to easily grab and go, which can encourage less than healthy eating throughout your busy schedule. With a little bit of planning and intentionality, you can choose to stock your fridge and pantry with healthier grab-and-go snack options that will promote healthier habits. Instead of cheesy crackers, try dried fruits or veggies in portable containers at kid-height in your pantry. Instead of sugary yogurts, perhaps have some pre-sorted baggies of strawberries, blueberries, and grapes for a healthier yet sweet alternative.
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