Still, it's not only about making sure that healthy food is around the house: it's also about encouraging children to actually appreciate it. If you declare a war against all junk food, then you'll be passing on to your kids the idea that choosing healthy food is hard, and that that we have to force ourselves to do it because the natural thing to do would be to "give in" and eat those delicious, irresistible junk products that are full of sugar and fat.
The truth is the natural thing is to choose healthy food, as the moment we give ourselves the chance to eat balanced meals on a regular basis we immediately notice how much better it is for our whole body.
Here are some tips on how you can get your kids to keep an open mind and slowly start falling in love with healthier choices in their daily food intake:
- Don't create "good" and "bad" foods.
Instead of demonizing certain kinds of food (if they are forbidden they'll be more attractive), simply make casual comments about the convenience of some healthy foods for different activities or interests of your children. If, for instance, your children loves to play board games, you can mention that almonds are great for improving focus. Or if your kid loves sports, you can explain how proteins and calcium will be great for them having more strength and resistance when a big game is coming.
- Be a role model.
This one is a bit obvious but it has to be stated. If children see you eating junk food too often, or they see you skip meals, overeat at nights or any other unhealthy behaviour around your nutrition, they will consider those choices as "normal" and will absorb the programming to emulate them, either today or at a later point in life, even if right now you're forcing them not to follow the same food patterns you do.
- Serve the table, let them choose.
"Eat your vegetables" is probably the least effective phrase in the history of language. The more your kids feel you're imposing certain foods on them, the more likely they'll find ways to avoid them all costs. Instead, simply prepare a tasty, balanced selection of dishes for each meal, and let kids put on their plates whatever they fancy the most. Maybe vegetables won't be their first choice, but if you see them eating and the recipes you use are actually good, they'll give it a try on their own rather soon: remember kids love to imitate adults, as long as they're not pressured to do so.
- Get them excited about food preparation or the source it comes from.
If your kids like to cook, then invite them to help in the kitchen whenever there's something fun or visually appealing for them to make. You can even choose recipes that are a bit flexible so they feel like they created part of it, by choosing carrots over zucchinis for the yakimeshi rice they love, for example.
If they don't like to cook, then look for recipes on YouTube that feature someone famous that your kids love. If you tell your little one: "Hey, check out this video, Chris Pratt made an amazing lasagna, and I'm gonna do this recipe tonight", then you can be sure they'll be very excited about trying it, even if has more healthy ingredients than they would normally be on board with.
Another fun idea is to take them some day in a field trip to a veggie farm where they can actually experience harvesting, and see how the food they took out of the soil with their own hands gets transformed into a delicious meal.
- Avoid using food as reward.
When you want to give your kids a special treat then it's better to go for experiences: a special night at the movies, visiting a water park, taking them to see their favorite team if they love sports... Of course, these experiences can include a good and tasty meal, but try not to make the food too different from what they would have at home.
If kids get the sense that there's "more delicious" food that's only available on special occasions, they will start craving it all the time and they'll easily get bored of the more balanced options you offer at home. This will happen simply out of the principle of scarcity: we all wish what we cannot have.
Of course, this doesn't mean you should never buy your kids a cone of ice-cream if they ask for it while you're strolling around the local park or mall. You simply can be more natural about it: if you want dessert here we can get that, if you want dessert at home there are also really great options there.
When you avoid using food as a reward or a "special occassion", then you also avoid creating an emotional link between unhealthy food and loving memories. It is very common for us as adults to have subconscious food patterns related to emotional associations: "I know eating too much ice-cream is not good for me, but my mother let me eat as much as I wanted when I was really sad, so I'll keep on abusing ice-cream whenever I need to feel loved and comforted around a sad situation".
This scenario might seem like a cliché, but it's actually the main reason why the most dangerous eating habits originate. So, just in case, it might be safer not to leave this kind of door open for trouble in the future adulthoods of our little ones.