Teaching healthy eating habits to our children from an early age (even from the time they begin complementary feeding ), is essential, not only for its benefits on a physical level, but also to establish a healthy relationship with food at an early stage . It is, without a doubt, a very important step in the prevention of obesity (childhood and adult), and eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.
It is important to keep in mind that these must be linked to other aspects such as playing sports, not rewarding or punishing through food , and not to mention diets. Basically, kids should never have to worry about their weight, because that’s our responsibility.
have breakfast without haste
After the fasting period that sleep hours entail, every day we should have breakfast as a family, without rushing (if possible), ensuring that we give children the nutrients they need – that is, forget about the boxed juice, the cereals industrial and cookies – to start the day with energy.
A breakfast should contain dairy products, fruits, cereals (preferably whole grains), healthy and protective fats such as olive oil and nuts, and proteins (meat, eggs…). The idea is to choose at least three of them and vary each day to “surprise” them, and thus gradually create the habit.
Balance is a state that we should talk about with children and put it into practice in all aspects of our lives, including food. At this point, the ideal is to ensure that children are able to choose healthy options on their own initiative and self-manage the consumption of sweets , and this is not achieved by prohibiting, but by teaching. Give them an example (it is impossible for a child to understand that eating anything in excess is bad, if you binge every two to three), make it easy for them to access healthy food and explain to them why it is not healthy to stuff ourselves with sugar.
Teach them about food
I believe that we would all eat better if we learned from a young age about food, how to combine them, why one and the other are important and why it is important to eat healthy . Without a strong and logical basis, it is impossible to build healthy habits that last over time.
Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables
We all know the theory, but putting it into practice requires more time and effort than opening a frozen pizza, or packing a bottle of juice and some cookies. Leave fresh fruit within their reach, include it in their daily breakfasts and snacks, and be creative when preparing the menus for the week (if you don’t, I recommend that you keep it in mind because it’s a good trick to save time and eat healthier ).
Bet on variety
Encourage children to try new textures and foods frequently and from the very moment you start introducing foods other than breast milk or formula. It is the best way to expand the range of food possibilities, and incidentally, increase your curiosity to continue doing it.
Avoid sugar and ultra-processed foods
Either because of the pace of life we lead, because it is difficult for us to deny our children something, because on TV they say that cookies, juices and other ultra-processed foods have vitamins and minerals, or for whatever reason, ultra-processed foods are won too much ground in the feeding of our children and it is our responsibility to find the balance for the good of their health.
At this point it is important that we become aware of the understanding of labels, since there is a lot of salt, sugar and trans fats hidden in foods that are already prepared (it is one of the many reasons why we should avoid them). When in doubt, always choose fresh foods that do not come prepared.
go to the market with them
Visiting a market with children is a very enriching experience for them because of everything that it encompasses: they see food in its original state, they can ask about it, we can take the opportunity to chat about the meals that our parents made for us, about the benefits that some and others can contribute to the preparation of the weekly menu and we can even make it more fun and propose them to choose something they have never tried.
Cooking with our children offers us many benefits : in addition to sharing valuable family time, we encourage their autonomy and we can teach them through experience about healthy eating. A very important factor to keep in mind is that when they have been involved in the preparation of a dish, they are more likely to try it without reluctance , so it is a fantastic way to naturally facilitate them trying new flavors and textures.
Don’t force them to eat
A healthy child who is offered a varied and balanced diet is not going to starve for not finishing the whole plate or even for going through a loss of appetite. Sometimes it can be frustrating for parents , but it is essential to respect their right to decide and understand that, just like adults, there are times when we feel like eating more than others.
On the contrary, forcing them continuously can be the seed that triggers an eating disorder (for example, getting used to leaving the plate empty despite being amply satisfied). In addition, there are studies that warn that forcing children to consume foods such as fruits and vegetables could even have the opposite effect.
eat as a family
Sitting at the table as a family has so many benefits for children and for us, that it should be a priority habit in our day-to-day routine. By doing so, we not only facilitate our communication and complicity , but also instill extremely important values through example.
eat without screens
We have all experienced at some point that when you eat in front of a screen, you do it mechanically, without savoring the food or enjoying the moment . This is exactly what happens when we give children a mobile phone, tablet or turn on the TV at mealtime: all connection with what is really happening at that moment is cut off, and obviously the possibility of communicating with each other.
One of the best rules we can implement is that screens are off limits at meal times ( starting with ours, of course ). It is one of those habits that are a priority to enjoy one of the most important family moments of the day.
As a mother of two daughters, I am clear that fostering healthy habits in children requires time (to go shopping, to cook…), money and a high dose of patience . However, I believe that it is an investment that is worth investing in: you are teaching your children today, to save them problems that could turn into something very serious tomorrow… could you imagine a world in which no one had to worry about doing diet, because no one needed it?