Raising kids who are healthy eaters takes more than just feeding them healthy foods—it’s an ongoing conversation about healthy eating and healthy habits.
Here are some things I tell my kids about healthy eating practically every week, plus one that I’m always mum about.
#1. “Watch your portions.”
Teaching kids about portion sizes isn’t a lesson most parents teach their kids but it’s a really important one.
In the U.S., portion sizes are double—even triple what they should be. Whether you’re picking up a coffee at Starbucks or eating out, we come to expect large portions. Inflated portion sizes are also one of the reasons we’re facing an obesity epidemic.
Although my kids are allowed to have seconds at dinner, I often talk to them about portion sizes. Whether it’s a serving of beans, fruit, or cookies, my kids often ask, “is this enough?”
Most of the time, it’s too much but I use it as an opportunity to teach them what a healthy portion size looks like. Sometimes I’ll have them dish out a snack in a measuring bowl or I’ll explain that an ounce of raisins is the size of their palm, for example.
When kids learn how to read and can understand basic math, you can teach them how to read food labels and see how many servings are in a container and what an actual serving size is.
#2. “Green leafy vegetables are great.”
When my kids ask about healthy vegetables, I tell them they should eat the rainbow but green leafy vegetables should make up a majority of their diet.
Although vegetables like carrots, mushrooms, and squash are healthy, green leafy vegetables like broccoli, salad greens, and asparagus are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and one of the best super foods that should be included in your kid’s diet.
#3. “You need protein.”
Oatmeal for breakfast can be a healthy option, but without some protein, I know my kids won’t have the energy to go all morning.
I do my best to make sure my kids get protein at every meal and snack—whether it’s yogurt, eggs or sunflower seeds. Protein is important for all of the cells in their bodies, helps to keep them satiated and is vital for their growth and development.
#4. “There are no ‘bad’ foods.”
My kids often ask me about specific foods and whether they’re healthy or not but I try to explain that food isn’t ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Although refined, white pasta isn’t something they eat regularly and not a food I’d consider healthy for example, I never call it unhealthy.
Labeling foods can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food later on in life. Just think about how many people you know who eliminate whole food groups because they think they’re “bad.”
The lesson I try to teach my kids is that fresh, whole, and healthy foods should make their way onto their plates a majority of the time, and nothing is off-limits.
#5. “Sure, you can have a treat.”
I don’t carry candy in my bag or keep the pantry stocked with junk food, but my kids know treats are OK to eat and balance is key. Although I’d love to control and keep tabs on everything they eat, I have learned that if I’m too restrictive, they’ll overindulge at other times. I also recognize that I can’t prevent them from being kids, especially when they’re with other kids for special occasions–not at school.
Since my kids eat healthy 90 percent of the time, they know when they’ve overindulged on treats on the weekends or at parties, so I don’t necessarily have to point it out. Besides, raising a child who is a healthy eater means helping them learn how to eat healthy while also having the freedom to enjoy treats.
The One Word I Never Speak To My Kids
“You Could Gain Weight”
Children pick up on everything we say and do, and “weight” is one thing I don’t talk to my kids about.
As a child myself, I can remember thinking about my weight a lot, whether it was because of models in magazines or my mom—like most moms—who were on diets.
Don’t get me wrong—when I’m talking to my kids about how much they’re eating, I’ve nearly blurted out the W word. I know that if I ever do say it, it could do lasting damage to the perception of themselves and their self-esteem, and stick with them throughout their lives. So instead of talking about weight, I always focus on their health.