The end of the year is a good time to celebrate the family’s victories and reflect on opportunities for growth. If your children’s eating routine
is one such opportunity, now is the time to plan for healthy changes in the new year.
Shifts in school schedules and virtual learning can cause disruptions in healthy eating, and these changes can affect a child’s overall wellbeing. Make the new year the time for setting healthy eating goals
for your kids. Not sure where to start? Let this article be your guide to setting simple and fun goals that your kids will enjoy throughout the whole year. Bonus: They work for adults, too!
Teaching Kids About Healthy Eating for a Year of Wellness
Goal 1: Make healthy family meals a priority
Create a happy atmosphere for healthy eating. Eating and talking together creates long-lasting benefits, such as fostering family unity, improving nutrition and promoting healthy weight for kids.
- Serve regular, balanced meals and snacks with a variety of nutrient-rich foods. This would include age-appropriate portions of lean protein, whole grain breads and cereals, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. Snacks could include pre-portioned nuts or trail mix, vegetables with dip and prepped vegetables in a bowl in the fridge. Keep healthy snacks within reach and at eye level.
- A healthy breakfast to jumpstart the day is associated with improved memory, more energy and positive mood. This could be as simple as a bowl of hot or cold cereal with milk and fruit or whole grain toast with nut butter or melted cheese and fruit.
- Make the effort to enjoy more family meals together each week. Look for easy ways to add just one family meal to the schedule. If weekday evenings seem too busy, then a weekend breakfast or lunch may work better. The good news is you can fit this new pattern into what works best for your family and then increase the frequency. Before you know it, you will be eating together most days.
- Parents are the image children will mirror. If you want your kids to eat healthier, you need to eat healthier. This should translate into the healthy behaviors you want to see in your child.
Goal 2: Get kids curious about healthy eating
Children form lifelong eating habits based on the kinds of foods served. Healthy eating habits are influenced by the entire mealtime experience, including learning activities. Getting kids engaged is a win-win situation!
- Make your kitchen a fun place to engage your child with smelling, tasting and feeling the food. Teach them where the food comes from. Make every trip to the supermarket an adventure in nutrition by teaching them to categorize food into groups (grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and protein). Take a field trip to a local farmers market or u-pick farm. Grow a garden and cook together. The process of planting, watching over and harvesting a garden provides daily opportunities for children to learn valuable lessons. It can also make kids a little more adventurous to try the fruits, vegetables, herbs or spices grown.
- Have your children help with age-appropriate tasks in the kitchen. Start slow and give your child time to master each task.
- 3-5 years old: Mix simple ingredients, snap green beans, tear lettuce for a salad, press cookie cutters
- 6-7 years old: Chop soft fruits and vegetables, roll cookie dough or meat into balls, crack eggs, measure ingredients
- 8-9 years old: Toast bread, make sandwiches, check the temperature of food with a thermometer, beat eggs
Children ages 10 and older: Mix a simple batter on their own, make their school lunch, boil potatoes, microwave foods
- Eat meals in designated areas of your home, such as the dining room or kitchen. Turn off the television, put away phones and connect with each other during the meals. This is part of mindful eating and allowing the food to take center stage. Eating as a family promotes talking which hopefully equates to slower eating. A child can detect hunger and fullness better when they eat slowly. This will give the brain time to register fullness before overeating.
Goal 3: Experience healthy eating in a positive way
Making healthy food choices as a family requires a lifestyle and attitude shift, not a mandate. To succeed at helping your child embrace healthy eating, you must model healthy eating and healthy living behaviors. If it is a way of life, it will sink in naturally.
- Teach basic skills for making positive food choices no matter the location or occasion. Over time your children will learn the connection between good nutrition and feeling good. This life lesson makes healthy food choices easier in all situations.
- Do not demonize desserts and pleasure foods. When strict rules surrounding these foods are enforced in the home, kids are more likely to overindulge when away from home. Allow space for indulgent foods in moderation.
- Encourage your children to drink more water or low-fat milk. Over consumption of sweetened drinks and sodas have been linked to some increased risk of obesity in children.
Goal setting can be easy and attainable if it is done with realistic outcomes in mind. It is not one-size-fits-all. It is up to you to assess what is most important and will work for your family. Making gradual changes over time sets you and your family up for long-term success.