Healthy eating has benefits but as most parents know, it can be a struggle to get your family to adopt healthier menu changes. Akron Children’s registered dietitian Abbey Granger shares what you can do to help your family make healthier food choices, why healthy choices go beyond eating fruits and vegetables and much more.
Healthy eating doesn’t just ensure your family will maintain their health, it can also help create a healthier relationship with foods and mealtimes.
“Establishing balanced nutrition habits as a family will ensure your loved ones have the tools to live a long and healthy life. As kids, eating nutrient-dense foods and forming a healthy relationship with food is the key to proper growth and development,” explained Granger.
But, as most parents know, simply asking your child to adopt changes can be difficult. That’s why, Granger says, if you want to make healthy menu swaps, you should model that behavior too.
“Kids are like sponges, picking up on everything in their surroundings. As parents, we can set the stage for healthy eating by showing kids how we include nutritious foods like fruits and veggies throughout our days. Kids will see what we are eating and be more apt to choose those items themselves. We can’t expect our kids to follow healthy eating habits if we don’t do it ourselves!” she said.
How should you include healthful menu changes in your day-to-day routine? Granger suggests planning your meals using the MyPlate model. MyPlate is a nutrition guide from the USDA that recommends half your plate consist of fruits and vegetables, your protein sources vary, your dairy choices are low fat and at least half of your grains are whole grains.
“For busy families, convenience is key. Try making sheet pan meals by cooking all your protein and veggies on one pan, or using a crockpot recipes. Meal kits like HelloFresh or Home Chef can also be a nutritious and easy option to make meals without having to do all the extra work,” said Granger.
Tips for Making Healthy Eating Easier
A common mistake many families make when adopting healthier eating practices is trying to change everything at once, said Granger. If making these changes feels overwhelming, start small.
“For some, that could look like adding just one serving of fruits and vegetables a day, or limiting eating out to once or twice a week. Over time, these small steps will eventually turn into habits that will stick,” she said.
How you talk about food plays an important role, too. Your language choices around food can impact how your child feels about their food choices. Try to not label foods as “good” or “bad.” Instead, Granger suggests reframing the conversation around food about the properties of the food. For example, if you’re serving carrots to your family, you could say: “Carrots help us to grow bigger and stronger” instead of “Carrots are good for us.”
“Research has shown that when parents explain what food can do for our bodies, kids can be more open to trying new foods and overall form a healthy relationship with it,” Granger said.
You’ve spoken to your kids about menu changes, are modeling healthy eating behaviors and have adopted different language when speaking about foods, but your kids still aren’t receptive to the changes.
While this can be frustrating, it’s important to respect your child’s choice to not eat new foods, said Granger.
“As parents, our job is to decide what is offered, and kids will decide how much of it they are going to eat. If we take the pressure off eating and are patient with our kids, they will come around to trying a variety of new items on their own. Our role as caregivers is to continue to keep giving our kids those opportunities,” she said.
Healthy Snacks and Recipes
It can feel easier to hand your hungry child a container of crackers or pretzels, but having nutrient dense items for a snack can help keep your child fuller longer.
“A simple way to think of this is to “pair your P’s” with a protein and produce. Think of items like yogurt with berries or carrots with hummus. For school, send kids with shelf-stable nutritious items like trail mix full of heart healthy fats or good quality granola bars that are low in added sugars,” Granger said.
For meals, Granger shares a few of her favorite recipes, egg muffins and vegetarian chili. Granger frequently shares the egg muffin recipe with her patients and encourages them to swap out ingredients for what they like.
“I want families to know that “healthy eating” goes beyond just what is served on our plates. Most of us understand that nutritious foods are essential for growth and development. But establishing healthy habits and creating a positive relationship with food includes so much more than just that. These habits include connecting at mealtimes, distraction free, and getting the kids involved in the process. Kids learn by doing and as caregivers we can give them those opportunities to learn and explore with food,” she said.