As many in this community know, the focus of my work for the past many years has been an emphasis on natural learning, following your child’s interests, and getting them outdoors exploring and playing freely in nature as much as possible. This has been a central part of raising my own children and I am so happy to have developed programs and curriculums and courses and communities around these ideas that have reached thousands of families all over the world.
Today, however, I want to talk about another related issue that is extremely important and has been weighing on my heart for quite some time. This is the issue of developing healthy eating habits in our children. As I’m sure all of you are aware, there is an epidemic of childhood obesity and related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, etc. running rampant through our nation and expanding to other parts of the world. Recent research has shown that a good portion of even our two to five-year-olds are obese. There are many, many factors at blame here, including things like the quality of food available in America, the cost of healthy eating, a lack of education, an abundance of fast-food restaurants, targeted advertising, change in family schedules that has removed daily family cooking and eating from the norm, limited recess time in schools, an abundance of screen time keeping children indoors and less active, and on and on and on. However, as our child’s parents we need to take responsibility and understand that the burden lies on us to develop these healthy eating habits for our children.
The bad news is that it is something that needs to be taught early or there is a bit of an uphill climb. Research varies on the determination of the age in which our food habits are set. Some estimates place that age as low as 2 years old, others are more generous up to the age of 7, with an average of around the age of 5. Now this doesn’t mean that it’s never too late to begin teaching healthy eating habits, it just means that it might be a little bit harder if your children are older than that.
The good news is that it is easy to make some changes in your own habits and life to instill in your child the habits that they need to have for healthy eating. The other good piece of news is that if you make the effort when they are younger to instill these habits of living a healthy lifestyle and eating healthy food, they are more likely to keep these healthy eating habits for the rest of their lives.
So what changes can you make right away to begin developing and instilling these habits for your children and your own life?
First you need to recognize that this is something YOU have to change in yourself and your own life. Just like with anything, modeling is an incredibly important part of parenting and teaching. So you can’t feed your children a healthy meal and then turn around and have ice cream for dinner. What you model and make important in your own life your children will see as an important value and they will adopt that in their own habits. So make a commitment today, right now, to make healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle a goal and a habit for your family.
The next thing that you need to do is include your child! Especially if your child is older than an infant or toddler, just giving them healthy food is not enough. They need to understand where their food comes from, they need to have a hand in gathering ingredients, they need to be hands-on in the kitchen, understanding that food preparation and healthy eating isn’t just a way of life but it is also something that can be fun and enjoyable. Not only does this help them develop a hands-on understanding of developing a healthy eating lifestyle and habits but it also helps them bond with you as they are preparing their food. Win-win!
Some of the ways you can include your child are letting them help you plan a menu for the week, making them their own grocery list, having them help you in the supermarket and at the farmer’s market to gather healthy foods, growing a garden, preparing meals, serving meals, and having conversations around the entire process.
Finally, ensure that you are not only developing healthy eating habits ,but also a roundabout healthy lifestyle. This includes being active as a family, modeling good exercise routines, drinking plenty of water, being mindful of snack choices, etc. Take a look at the lifestyle and the activity level of your family right now and identify where you could change your habits to be more active as a family.
Depending on where you are on this healthy eating journey right now, this may not be easy for you. Remember that you don’t need to change everything all at once; taking baby steps is a great way to ensure that changes stick! Identify one area where you can make a change right away to begin including your child in meal preparation and developing a healthier lifestyle with your family.
To help you in this journey towards bringing your children into the kitchen and preparing healthy snacks and meals together, I’ve put together a cookbook just for you and your little ones – Preschoolers Cook.
In this cookbook, I include 30 recipes that I have prepared with my own children many times (some even come from my childhood that my mother prepared with me and my siblings… which just goes to show you that developing healthy eating habits is something that lasts for generations! Thanks Mom!). Each one of these recipes is a healthy meal or snack – no sugar, no food dyes, etc. And all of them can be prepared with your young child’s help! In addition to the recipes themselves, I also provide you with prompts that you can use to have conversations with your children as you are preparing a recipe. This will help to create a bonding experience, get healthy conversations about healthy lifestyles flowing, and continue the experience beyond the simple act of preparing the foods. I know that this will help you get your child into the kitchen having fun right away, so get your copy now.
And definitely take photos of what you and your child create together! I love seeing healthy kids preparing healthy meals!