Offer a child the choice between having a single marshmallow right now or waiting a couple of hours and having two marshmallows, and the vast majority will go for the first option. This classic test of delayed gratification explains why the fact that food is nutritious and may provide them with health benefits in the future is not enough to convince many children to change their diets.
Read on for a few tips on alternative ways to encourage children to eat more of what is good for them and less of what is not.
Get them involved
The more your children know about where their food comes from and how it is made, the more likely they will be to eat. Encourage them to help when it comes to putting together lists of groceries. Explain why you can’t simply buy sweets or cookies and need to ensure there is a balance in their diet. You can also get your children involved in preparing dishes that need little or ideally no cooking from an early age, so they can better understand the process.
You might also want to take them along to a farmer’s market, rather than just a supermarket, so they get a better sense of the true source of their food. If you can involve them in picking fruit or watching cows being milked, all the better.
Make use of play
Don’t confine lessons about healthy eating to the breakfast or dining room table – bring it into other aspects of your child’s world by finding fun books about nutrition or looking at some of the unusual things that people in other parts of the world eat.
Playtime can also provide an opportunity to role play around the idea of healthy eating. If your child arranged a pretend dinner party for toys making use of a play cooking set, you could introduce a scenario where one animal likes a particular food, but another does not and use this as a way of explaining the benefits of eating it.
Make it into a game – and keep score
Establish the idea of eating the rainbow by ensuring your children eat as many different colors as they can at each meal. You could invest in coloring books for them to keep records of each rainbow they eat to help reinforce the idea that such variety is good. You could even set up your own points system that other members of the family can make use of, totting up the totals at the end of each week to see who has had the greatest variety. Such lessons can then spill over to other meals, such as when your children are out at a restaurant or even in the school cafeteria.
You should also try to establish a sense of healthy snacking where once again variety is the key. Although it is fine for your children to have soda or juice on occasion, they should also be encouraged to choose water or milk. Similarly, they should strive for the maximum variety by occasionally choosing fruit or vegetable sticks over chips or cookies.
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