Help Your Child Eat Healthy

Teen girl having breakfast
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Help your kids eat healthy foods. Here are some ideas from other parents:

From Yucky to Yummy

"Yuck! I don't want to eat this!" my preschooler exclaims as she shoves the offending vegetable away with her fork.

I sigh in quiet desperation. What mom wants to hear those words after toiling over a meal? It makes me want to order pizza and call it quits.

But the nutritional stakes are high as we face growing trends both in eating disorders and childhood obesity. And coming from a long line of women who have found comfort in food, I've often wondered how I can give my kids — especially my daughters — a healthy view of food.

I'm not pretending to have all the answers, but learning that food is a good gift was a paradigm shift for me in my journey from food fixation to fullness in Jesus. This conclusion sounds simple, but for those of us who have counted calories and mentally categorized foods as "good" and "bad," it's easy to believe that food is the enemy, something to be constrained instead of celebrated. And unfortunately, this attitude can be picked up by our children, too.

God gave us food (Genesis 9:3), and He only gives good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11). Here are a few ways to help our kids understand this:

Teach about the super-powers in food. When my daughter exclaimed she didn't want her carrots, I responded that they're a superfood. Intrigued, she asked me why, and I told her how God put vitamin A and beta-carotene in carrots to give her super-vision. Granted, I had to wing it on the details and present the biology in an oversimplified form because I'm not a walking encyclopedia.

Soon after, she wanted to know what vitamins were in broccoli, spinach, potatoes, chicken, pasta and even cupcakes. I've tried to translate simple nutrition facts into something meaningful by explaining that chicken makes her jump higher (supports muscle development), spinach helps her stay well (supports immune system), and cupcakes? Well, those are just plain fun once in a while.

I'll admit, this exercise in nutritional simplification has been challenging for me, too, but it's been rewarding to watch her make wise choices for herself by asking, "Which food will give me the most energy I need to play today?" And though she might not attack bell peppers with gusto, she and her little sister have started taking a few bites of my salad.

Help kids cultivate thankful hearts. Food is a good gift, but its primary purpose is to point us back to our Creator in thankfulness. This may be a difficult concept for little children to grasp, but every child can learn to say thank you, especially when mac and cheese is on the menu.

At our house, we take turns thanking God for our food before we eat, and when the meal is over, our children have learned to say, "Thank you, Mom, for the food. May I please get down now?" Even my 2-year-old mumbles something along those lines.

Help kids listen to their bodies. Assuming they're eating a well-balanced diet overall, I don't force my kids to finish everything on their plates. Instead, I've been trying to teach them to stop when they feel full, even if they still have food on their plates. I've been surprised how much easier this skill is for them than it is for me as an adult.

I encourage this same mindfulness with treats, playfully quoting one of their favorite books: "A little sugar is yummy. Too much sugar is . . ." and I pause, allowing them to finish the sentence: "yucky."

With my oldest, I ask her to pause and gauge how her tummy is feeling. Often she'll be the one to tell me, "Yeah, I've had enough. Why don't we save it for tomorrow." Or sometimes she'll quip, "I think I'll have just one more bite."

By learning which foods give them superpowers, developing a thankful attitude and listening to their bodies in order to self-regulate their eating, my kids have a framework to make wise choices even when I'm not there to supervise.

— Asheritah Ciuciu, the author of Full: Food, Jesus and the battle for satisfaction.

The Value of Breakfast

Going without breakfast places kids at an increased risk of obesity. A Harvard study found that children who skip breakfast have a fourfold increased risk of becoming obese. Researchers theorize that breakfast is important each morning because it starts the metabolism for the day, and the fiber consumed helps with blood glucose regulation and a decrease in the hormone grehlin, which causes an increased appetite.

The menu? Almost any kind of breakfast is helpful. But an ideal one consists of protein, such as eggs, meat or cheese, as well as whole-grain fiber, such as wheat toast, oatmeal or cereal (ideally 6 grams of fiber per serving). Fruits are a great breakfast choice because they contain essential vitamins, fiber and phytonutrients that are helpful cancer-fighting agents. Here are some ways to help your kids make breakfast a part of every day:

  • Have protein bars and fresh fruit readily available and visible.
  • Have a fruit smoothie with yogurt or protein powder prepared the night before and waiting in the refrigerator.
  • Set breakfast cereal, milk and utensils on the table ready to go.
  • Sit with your teen and eat together.
  • Wake up a little early once in a while and go on a breakfast date.

Help your kids achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle by making breakfast a priority, having quality food choices available, and modeling good nutrition and exercise.

— Vicki L. Dihle

New Foods and Picky Eaters

Encouraging kids to eat healthy foods is often a daily battle. For the life of me, I couldn’t get one of my sons to eat anything green — except Jell-O. Finally, I squeezed a dab of honey into his broccoli, and he gobbled it up. Oh, the things we do!

Youngsters often dislike the unfamiliar. So, explore fun ways to introduce new foods to those picky palates. You can subtly sweeten bitter foods with natural sugars or applesauce.

Challenge kids to try a bite of all the different colors on their plates, have them help you choose veggies at the store, or plan a family taste test. Be creative!

Most important, continue offering your little ones a rainbow of color at mealtime.

Note: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not giving honey to a baby younger than 12 months.

— Jean Blackmer

Getting Kids to Finish Their Food

Teaching our children to eat what's on their plates has been a parenting challenge. To do this, my wife and I have discovered a few fun strategies:

  • We offer meals in "courses," beginning with healthier foods and moving toward our daughters' favorites. Until they eat the more wholesome foods, they aren't allowed to move onto the next course.
  • We pretend that the various pieces of food on their plates are different members of a family. We point at the broccoli and say, "No! Don't eat the grandpa!" The kids will gobble up "the grandpa" and then move on to eat "the aunt" and so on.

We aren't always as successful in this area as we would like, but we're making progress — and having fun while we're at it!

Joshua Rogers

"From Yucky to Yummy" first appeared in the April/May 2019 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. "The Value of Breakfast" first appeared in Focus on Your Child Teen Phases, August 2008 newsletter.  "New Foods and Picky Eaters" first appeared in teh october/November 2011 issue of Thriving Family. "Getting Kids to Finish Their Food" first appeared in the April/May 2015 issue of Thriving Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.

"From Yucky to Yummy" © 2019 by Asheritah Ciuciu. "The Value of Breakfast" © 2008 by Focus on the Family. "New Foods and Picky Eaters" © 2011 by Jean Blackmer. "Getting Kids to Finish Their Food" © 2011 by Joshua Rogers. Used by permission

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