The early years are vital to your child’s lifetime health. Not only will the food they eat now keep them physically healthy and less likely to catch illnesses, but the food they eat will also help form their eating habits for the rest of their lives. If bad habits are developed now, they may never be broken and can lead to serious medical conditions like heart disease later on in life.
Luckily, following a few simple rules will keep your children healthy now and in the future.
The less processed the better
No matter how many billions of dollars in advertisements try to persuade you about the health benefits of vitamin-infused chicken nugget TV dinners and other processed foods, valuable nutrition is lost with each processing step. Organic fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables are rich in nutrients that your child needs to be healthy, and to grow strong. They are also very easy to prepare for snacks and meals.
Limit added sugar as much as possible
Sugar is straight-up bad for you. It literally kills brain cells. Every time we eat or drink sugar-rich substances, the sugar sends pleasure signals to the brain, which is why we enjoy it. But those pleasure signals are really brain cells in ecstasy before dying, a similar effect to drugs like cocaine. Sugar also causes depression and symptoms similar to those in ADHD. On top of that, it creates new fat cells and signals the brain that it’s hungry even after a lot of calories have been consumed so it is near impossible to have a high sugar diet without being at risk for becoming obese.
The problem with sugar is that it is in everything, even some bread and meats. Look at the ingredients list for everything processed to see if sugar is added. Instead of giving your children sugary cereals and candy, find tasty, healthy alternatives to cure a sweet tooth, like strawberries dipped in unsweetened cocoa powder or yogurt. Skip the store-bought juices and powdered drinks as well. Those have as much sugar as soda. Instead give your child sparkling water instead of soda and make your own nutrient-packed juices at home using a juicer and fruits and vegetables. Homemade juice is also an excellent opportunity to sneak in some healthy vegetables that your child might not like, like spinach or kale. But above all other drinks you should give your children lots of water and some kind of milk. The water will keep them hydrated and energized while the calcium and vitamin D rich milk will help their bones and muscles develop and grow strong.
Do NOT make them to eat everything on their plate
Well meaning parents often tell their children that if they don’t finish all their food, they won’t be allowed to have dessert, or watch TV after dinner. They might even tell their children about all the starving kids in Africa who would love to have that food.
While it is good to make your children aware of food waste, this is actually detrimental to your child’s health. This is the time in their life when they need to recognize when they’re full and to stop eating when they reach that point. Telling a child to keep eating after they’re done confuses the signals in their brain about food. They might start to think they need to keep eating until they’re “stuffed”, or they might not realize that they’ve had enough to eat until they’re actually sick.
Instead of punishing your child for not eating their vegetables, save their leftover food for later. Depending on the length of time between dinner and their bedtime, they might be hungry later on in the night and you can give them the rest of the food then. It’s better to eat several small meals throughout the day instead of three big meals anyway.
You can also teach your children about portion control by letting them get their food as well. You can coach them on what a balanced meal looks like, and lead by example. Just make sure that their dishes are much smaller than yours. That way, their kid-sized portions will cover the same amount of plate as your adult-sized portions, and it will look more normal to them.
With these three rules, you’ll be able to teach your children great eating habits to keep them healthy now and in the future.