M&M's don't count!
We’re far from perfect, but I have found huge success in setting expectations early on! I believe developing healthy eating habits in kids is an ongoing process, needing positive role models (me, dad, grandparents, other caregivers).
Some expectations for our family: we (try to) only eat at the table for meals and snacks (which also helps contain the messes!), we (again, try to!) have 3 meals each day, with a morning and afternoon snack (to help foster routine expectations, knowing when the next meal/snack will come), and reminding my girls that it’s always ok to say “I’m still learning to like this food” or recognize when “my tummy is full” during mealtimes (encouraging mindful, polite eating). Some days are better than others, but overall these small habits help our family know what to expect and when, making it easier to eat together.
Beyond the eating setting (when and where), I try to keep in mind the “what” of meal components by asking myself a few questions:
Are there at least 4 colors in our meal (M&M’s don’t count!)? Is there at least one “safe” (familiar) food that my toddler can recognize, making trying new foods less intimidating? And last, am I involving my daughters in the process?
I have found huge, huge success in healthy mealtime habits when my daughter pulls up a chair and either watches or helps make the meal or snack. Something simple, like taking a produce sticker off an apple, getting a strainer out of the cupboard for me, peeling a tangerine, or helping to sprinkle cheese are some ways that my kids love to help. With that, it’s easy to teach her things like “carrots help your eyes see clearly to help you play” or, “protein is in chicken, which is good for keeping your tummy full” to help her be interested in how foods nourish our bodies.
I come from a family that encouraged “you must finish everything on your plate” or “ten more bites and then you can have dessert” and that always put so much pressure on mealtimes, often leading me to focus on amounts instead of what I was eating. I hated sitting at the table because I felt like everyone was staring at my plate, reminding me to take bites or threatening dessert instead of really seeing me. While I know more often than not, mealtimes can be rushed, stressful, unplanned or last-minute takeout, at the end of the day I know focusing on making eating a positive time to spend with the family is what matters most.
I’m a wife and a mom to three - two girls and the sweetest rescue dog, Duke. I love being home with my two girls and finding new ways to stay busy in this pandemic! I believe in the power of consistency; preventing problems is much easier than treating them!
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Want more ways to teach your children to love healthy food? wichealth.org has a free online lesson called Help Your Child Develop Healthy Eating Habits. Find it on wichealth.org in the Children Ages 1-5 category!