You may have come across the age-old saying, "You are what you eat." While it's not suggesting that your child will magically transform into a fruit salad or a loaf of garlic bread, it does emphasise the profound influence that their food choices (and the choices you make for them) have on their physical well-being.
Unhealthy eating habits during childhood can persist into adulthood, leading to potential health problems. By educating children about the importance of nutritious eating from a young age, you can lay the foundation for a lifetime of good health.
At The HDFC Schools, we ensure that our students not only grow academically but also get the holistic development they need, which goes well beyond classroom learning. Having healthy eating habits not only promotes physical development but also makes them wiser. This attention to students' overall growth has helped us consistently rank among the best schools in Gurugram, Bengaluru and Pune.
We recently conducted an educational trip to a supermarket for the students of pre-primary. The objective was to acquaint the students and teach them about the need for food, and different sources of food (i.e., plants and animals), inculcate healthy eating habits and help them distinguish between healthy and unhealthy food choices. We also took the children on a trip to a flea market where they learnt a lot about the different food items on sale.
As a parent, here are a few ways in which you can instil healthy eating habits in your child.
Children often mimic the behaviours of their parents and caregivers. To instil healthy eating habits in your child, start by being a positive role model. Demonstrate the importance of nutritious eating by making mindful food choices yourself. Show them that you enjoy fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and they are more likely to follow suit.
You may have heard about that incident when, during an interview, Cristiano Ronaldo removed that bottle of a very popular soft drink brand from the desk in front of him and instead appealed to everyone to drink water instead. He knows that so many youngsters follow him on social media and treat him as a role model, so he took it upon himself to lead by example. But that was still an isolated incident. You need to take up the mantle of role model on an everyday basis.
Your home should be a place where good eating habits for kids are encouraged. Stock your pantry and refrigerator with a variety of healthy foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Limit the availability of sugary snacks, sodas, and processed foods, creating a natural inclination towards healthier options.
Regular family meals offer a great opportunity to foster healthy eating habits. Sit down together for breakfast, lunch, or dinner whenever possible. This provides a chance to connect as a family while modelling portion control and balanced meal choices.
Teaching your child about nutrition can empower them to make informed choices. Engage them in age-appropriate conversations about the importance of different food groups and their benefits. Take them grocery shopping with you on the weekend, and tell them about the different foods. You could even make it a quiz to hold their interest. You can also try using visual aids like charts and books to make learning fun and accessible.
Encourage your child to participate in meal preparation. Depending on their age, they can help with washing vegetables, stirring ingredients, or even planning a meal. This hands-on approach not only makes them feel involved but also educates them about where food comes from.
Snacking is a part of every child's diet, but it doesn't have to mean sugary or unhealthy options. Offer nutritious snacks like apple slices with peanut butter, yoghurt with berries, or carrot sticks with hummus. Keep healthy snacks readily available to avoid reaching for less nutritious choices.
According to a research done by Michigan State University, people who actively engage in sports or other physical activities regularly are far less likely to develop poor eating habits over the years. The feel good factor induced by regular physical activity makes the body crave healthier foods to eat. The converse can also be true. Without physical activity, kids might be more likely to engage in unhealthy snacking as a means to kill time or while binge watching their favourite show. So encourage them to play sports, go ride their bicycles, or sign them up for swimming lessons or dance classes.
You may at some point have encouraged your child to have one more roti even after they said they were full. But that might not be the right approach in the long term. Teaching your child about portion sizes is crucial to prevent overeating. Use visual cues, such as comparing a serving of chicken to the palm of their hand or a cup of rice to a cricket ball, to help them understand appropriate portions for their age and activity level.
Variety is the spice of life, especially when it comes to healthy eating habits for kids. Introduce a wide range of foods to your child's diet. Try to incorporate different varieties of colours, textures, and flavours of food to make meals more exciting. This can help prevent boredom and expand their palate at the same time.
Excess sugar and processed foods are known to have negative effects on children as well as adults. But the habit of drinking sugary sodas and eating sugary foods develops early on. Then, often by the time the child (now as an adult) realises the harmful effects of too much sugar, it is far more difficult to stop consuming their favourite soft drink.
Educate them early on about the harmful effects, and limit their consumption of sugary snacks, sugary drinks, and highly processed foods. Instead, opt for natural sugars found in fruits and encourage water as the primary beverage choice.
Help your child develop a healthy relationship with food by teaching them mindful eating. Encourage them to pay attention to hunger and fullness cues. Avoid eating in front of screens, as it can lead to mindless overeating.
Support your child's efforts to develop good eating habits. Praise their healthy choices and avoid criticism or negative comments about their food preferences. Creating a positive food environment is essential for their overall well-being.
Developing healthy eating habits in your child is a lifelong investment in their health and well-being. By leading by example, creating a nutrient-rich home environment, and educating your child about nutrition, you can lay the foundation for a lifetime of good eating habits. Remember to be patient, flexible, and supportive as your child explores new foods and develops their own tastes. With your guidance, they can grow up to be healthy, happy eaters who make nutritious choices for years to come.
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