County Extension Director
How can I encourage my children to be healthy eaters? When parents ask for parenting advice, my response usually starts like this, “Well, it depends…..” However, my reply to the healthy eating question is straightforward. Set a good example, have healthy foods available, and make mealtimes fun.
Make snack time fun and healthy. Photo Credits: Heidi Copeland, Leon County
Set a good example for healthy eating. What we do seems to carry a stronger message to our children than what we say. Our actions do speak louder than our words. Let your children see you eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with meals or as snacks. Try new foods and describe how they taste, the texture, and the smell. Only offer one new food at a time and serve something your child likes along with the new food. Offer a small serving of the new food at the beginning of the meal, when your child is very hungry. Avoid forcing your child to eat and realize that the new food may need to be offered at several different meals before your child acquires a taste for it.
Have healthy foods available in your home. Cut raw vegetables into fun and easy shapes with cookie cutters. Back to setting a good example, let your children see that you like to munch on raw vegetables. Make your own trail mixes from dry whole-grain, low-sugar cereal and dried fruit. Prepare healthy snacks in advance before everyone is starving and ready to grab the first thing they see. Then store those snacks in small see-through packages that are handy to grab and go.
Dr. Karla P. Shelnutt, a Registered Dietitian with University of Florida IFAS Extension, reminds us that healthy snacks are an important part of a child’s diet because children have small stomachs and it is difficult for them to meet all their nutritional needs in three meals. Snacking can be part of a well-balanced diet if the foods selected for snacks are healthy and nutritious rather than high in fat and added sugar.
Make mealtime fun. The next time tacos are on the menu, gather everyone in the kitchen. Divide up the responsibilities for preparation. Put on some Mariachi music and encourage everyone to get moving. Dance, enjoy, and the laughter will come naturally. Turn the music volume down during the meal to encourage conversation and then plan your family’s next theme night. Following the meal, turn up the music and dance the night away while everyone helps with the clean up.
Trying to get everyone together for a meal can be a challenge. However, it is a challenge worth accepting. Families benefit from sitting down with one another over food to discuss the events of the day, relax, and nourish their bodies. Our attitudes and traditions concerning food are based on family experiences. Make meals enjoyable and help your children become healthy eaters while creating cherished family memories.