How to Create the Mindset to Eat Healthy in Children

There is one profound truth – Every behaviour change starts with a thought and attitude change. We are sure that everyone reading this post has wished – God! Let my child want to choose the right foods! Easier said than done!

Can we get our children to want to eat healthy? Of course, we can with a small tweak in our approach. Many times we have tried coaxing and persuasion and rewards and punishments. Whilst it may work for a short duration, it is not the solution for long term permanent change. A permanent behaviour change can occur only with a mindset change. Our children need to start thinking differently and then it can lead to a different behaviour.

Let us explore Five strategies to get our children to make healthy choices long term and sustainably. Is it simple – YES. But it is a consistent effort. Remember… The trick is to do a little each day. Also importantly – add a little fun to it, a bit of  playfulness and to talk to them at their level of understanding.

Have conversations about health: 

There is no particular age to start talking about health. There is no need to wait for the child to grow up. Conversations on health start at the time we start conversation on prayer and in most households, it is really early.

What is it that children need to be told – They need to know that Health, good nutrition and Lifestyle are priority human values – right up there with honesty and punctuality and kindness and empathy.

They need to be told about how their body is a temple – a sacred space where they live and how it needs to be honoured and taken care of and nourished. We need to tell them how we, their parents  love our bodies and take care of it and therefore how we are careful about what we eat. We can discuss how we need to follow an apt lifestyle so that we move towards health.

Let us remember that anything that the child is exposed to the most gets embedded in their fertile minds… How do you think advertisements for kids products work?

 Let us look at a few affirmations we can run through with them…

 Thank you, God, for gifting me this beautiful body so that I can live this life well

Thank You, God, this body helps me taste delicious food, use my senses, enjoy my play time

Dear God, I promise you that I will take of this Body you gifted me

Dear God, I promise you that I will nourish it with good food, exercise and good values

Give the child nutrition and health responsibilities:  

Children need to be involved in food purchasing, food preparation and food serving. Let us specify… purchase of nourishing food, not those advertised. This makes them familiar with whole foods, and allows them to understand the process by which food becomes nourishment. The best way to succeed at this is to organise small rituals around such activities. Children love rituals and it gives them a sense of being grown up and responsibility.

Four rituals that one can immediately start (the level of involvement can depend on the age of the child)

Taking the child grocery shopping and having conversations about the goodness of grains and pulses, meat, eggs and the varied coloured vegetables and fruits

 Getting the child to assist in the cleaning and storing of groceries

Letting the child observe and assist in cooking. As the child grows, the responsibilities can deepen

 Giving the garnishing/laying the table /serving fruit responsibilities to the child

 Don’t base any reward or punishment around food: 

This is a common misconception – wherein we tend to reward good health choice with a favoured not so nutritious food like chocolate or ice cream.

 Such responses send the following wrong messages to the child:

The nourishing food is not good enough, that is why I am giving you a tasty food to make up for it

Eating well is not a reward in itself

Good food is not tasty and so here let me compensate with a tasty food

Eating sweets is fine if we eat the food served

Similarly, we may tend to withhold a treat if the child does not eat well. This makes the environment very disturbing and negative. The child then starts associating the food with the memory of unpleasantness and can develop an aversion to that food.

Thus, it’s very important to give the message that eating well is reward in itself. It is not done to please parents but for one’s health.

Eating well is a reward in itself. If one wants to appreciate the child for good health choices, the reward can be words of praise or physical demonstrations, a toy or a game (only when consistent choices are seen – not for a single good choice) or the most important gift for young children – specially scheduled quality time with parents.

Plan, schedule menus and meals with Children’s inputs: 

Involve children in menu and meal planning. Let some accountability of choosing well rest on them. Some questions that can be asked

Which green vegetable is to be chosen for the Wednesday dinner?

Select the late evening fruit for each day of the week

Which salad is to be prepared today? 

But remember – offer smart choices. The choice cannot be between instant noodles and paratha! You know what they will choose! The choices have to be on the same level – eg. A aloo paratha or a palak paratha

In the same way, also schedule days/ meals which are treats – a once a fortnight dinner as a take away or from a restaurant can be based on the child’s preference as can a weekly ordered in/ packaged snack.

 This makes the child feel more accountable and responsible for food choices as well as helps them understand that treats need to be scheduled.

It starts with YOU: 

Yes. That’s right. In a way… this is the most  EASY and yet it can be the most DIFFICULT.  Our Children’s good eating and lifestyle habits start with us. We are the Role Models.

You may ask – Will they understand these concepts? Well…Picture this – we have taught the most abstract concept of God (of whom there is no proof and no tangible evidence) and of Prayer to our kids. They have learnt to pray before eating and bow their heads to God and choose God’s way. Can we stop to think how is it that they are drawn to light a lamp, pray and read the scriptures. It is from our behaviour that they understand what is to be done.

Well, the same is for health choices. We need to show them the right choices not just talk about them – actually both talk to them and demonstrate by doing. They should feel that there is no other way of life.

They need to see their parents consistently make good food and lifestyle choices and that they do so purposefully. Family mealtimes are the perfect opportunities to set examples for good food choices.

Let us start with these five strategies and convert them from the pages of Nutrition with Vibha to our kitchens, homes and lives.

There are more on these thoughts coming to you soon – easier to ensure pointers, examples of conversations to have and a few fab recipes that children can help in preparation to help inculcate good eating habits in your children.Write to us with your questions and comments and especially which other topics you would like more information on. Happy Nutriparenting!

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