“Parents are the very first teachers for their kids; they set the stage for eating habits,” says Connie Evers, M.S., R.D., author of How to Teach Nutrition to Kids and creator of NutritionforKids.com. In fact, when the American Dietetic Association surveyed children, the majority of them cited their parents as their strongest role models. That means you can’t just talk the healthy talk, you have to walk the healthy walk! Eat Together
Research shows that families who eat meals together at home tend to eat healthier, says nutritionist Tara Gidus, M.S., R.D. (DietDiva.net). “And even if it isn’t always the healthiest meal, there are still emotional benefits to eating together.” Some research shows that family meals may even reduce the incidence of eating disorders in kids.
Having meals together helps establish a routine, and parents can maintain a little more control over what their kids are eating, Evers says. There’s a lot of talk of unhealthy school lunches, she says, but that only accounts for about 20% of kids’ calories—the rest is at home. Easy Beef Lasagna
, made with Ragú® Pasta Sauce
, 1-2-3 Chicken Cacciatore
and Burger Pizza Deluxe, which gets it’s great flavor from Lipton® Recipe Secrets® Onion Mushroom Soup Mix
, are simple to make. Minimize Food Rewards
It’s unrealistic to never use food as a reward, but try to minimize it, Gidus suggests. Substitute stickers, point systems, outings or other rewards in place of ice cream and candy. The opposite is true as well, so be careful about using food to console, or of taking food away for bad behavior. “Try not to connect food to emotion,” Gidus says. Keep in mind that little eyes see all (even when you think they’re not looking), so watch your own emotional eating. Teach Moderation
When it comes to portion control, visual cues can be very helpful: Put snacks in bowls (instead of eating out of the bag); show kids what a handful looks like; or divide the plate into quarters, and show how much of each food goes in each section. You could even get creative and use something like asparagus spears as your dividers! When it comes to sweet treats or fried foods, Gidus suggests talking about them as “occasional foods” rather than “always foods.” Get Kids Involved
Turn the grocery store into a classroom! Teach kids to read labels through scavenger hunt–type tasks, like finding a cereal with at least 5 grams of dietary fiber per serving, Gidus suggests. Involve them in meal planning and preparation, with age–appropriate jobs. “Even little ones can do things like tear lettuce,” Evers says. Don’t forget to take them with you to farmers’ markets or, better yet, let them be farmers. “Letting kids grow their own garden plots is a great way to get them to eat veggies,” Evers says.
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