This is part of my 12-part series entitled 12 Strategies for Raising a Healthy Child.
Forming Healthy Eating Habits
They say healthy eating habits start young.
We have discussed many of the practices and behaviors that help children live a healthy life already, from avoiding too much soda and sugary drink consumption and eating more fruits and veggies to understanding proper portion sizes and limiting excess screen time.
There are other tendencies and actions, independent of actual food selection and amounts eaten, that may interrupt the development of healthy eating habits. These behaviors may take on a life of their own and when they do, can threaten overall health.
The Food Sneaker
“My mom yells at me if I snack in between meals. But I am so hungry at night…when my parents go to bed, I go to the pantry and get a box of cereal.”
The Food Hoarder
“I hate being hungry, but mostly I feel hungry, especially at lunch. I carry extra granola bars and crackers in my backpack at school and store them in my locker. Oh, and I have some candy hidden in my closet, too…. just in case I get hungry.”
The Closet Eater
“My parents are really focused on eating healthy and exercising—they never eat anything bad. When I want unhealthy foods, I definitely make sure they don’t see me eat them, because I would get in trouble or they would disapprove. It stinks to eat alone, but that’s the only way I can eat the foods that I like.”
The Offsite Overeater
“We never have anything good to eat in my house, but when I go to Johnny’s house, his mom has everything! I can’t wait to go there and eat as much as I want…”
Healthy Eating Habits Start Young
As adults, many of you can probably identify with some of these feelings and behaviors. Maybe these remind you of your own childhood struggles. The seeds for the above behaviors are planted at a young age.
Parents have the difficult job of balancing healthy eating habits and a challenging food landscape with creating a healthy relationship with food. How can you assure your child is secure about food, is getting enough to be satisfied, and is avoiding the unhealthy habits that can sabotage eating and weight?
6 Keys for Establishing Healthy Eating Habits
1. Be a great provider
Stock your kitchen with a balanced variety of foods. Avoid the extremes in food—all healthy or all “junk food.” Prepare enough food at mealtimes to satisfy your family’s appetite, and keep a schedule for meals and snacks—this helps avoid excess hunger.
2. Avoid “good” and “bad” food labels
Positive and negative food labels can confuse children and set up conflict in their minds—how can my teacher eat “bad” food? How can this food be “bad” when it tastes so good? It’s best to keep a neutral attitude about all foods.
3. Tune into hunger and appetite
Appetite and hunger vary with each child. Kids want to eat when they are hungry and aren’t great at holding off their appetite. Putting off hunger can lead to overeating—either in an obvious way or in a secretive way.
4. Serve family-style meals
Do you want your child to eat what they need and leave the table satisfied? Try using a different approach such as family-style meal service. Offer a variety of food groups in serving platters and bowls, and allow your child to determine if and how much food they will consume. You get to determine the health and quality of the foods you serve.
5. Encourage eating in the open
Don’t shame your child if they want to eat. Help him find a satisfying snack, and if able, sit with him while he eats it. Children should not have to hide when they want to eat in order to avoid a parent’s disapproval. There is no shame in eating; we all have to eat to live.
6. Address poor eating habits openly
Don’t be afraid to speak to your child lovingly about unhealthy eating habits. You might learn that your child is not eating enough or properly, which is something you can work with your child to solve. Alternatively, your child ends up navigating the situation on his own, and perhaps in an unhealthy and unsuccessful manner.
You can help your child change his or her eating habits and even prevent the damage that can spring from them down the road.
Are you helping your child develop healthy eating habits?Healthy Living Series for Kids: Forming Healthy Eating Habits Click To Tweet
If you’re not sure, check out my checklist for raising nourished, healthy kids here!
For a holistic approach to raising a child who eats well, regulates his food consumption and has a healthy relationship with food, check out my signature program: The Nourished Child Project.
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: November 8, 2017
Updated on: May 8, 2019