Childhood is a time to learn, grow, and discover new things. For parents, one of the biggest priorities is to set their child up for a happy and healthy future. The best place to start is with the three fundamentals:
2. Regular physical activity
3. Mental health
The good news is that you can integrate healthy habit building into your family’s everyday life without having to set aside a ton of time – we all know how busy life can get! In this blog, we are going to focus on Healthy Habit 1 – Nutrition. Here are some helpful tips to get started.
Break It Down
Children learn best with simple, bite-sized information, so it’s best to break down healthy habits into easy steps.
First, explain why eating healthy is important. How you explain it should be tailored to how your child best understands new ideas. For example, you could tell them that vitamins in healthy foods help their bodies grow and prevent them from getting sick.
Then, show them how to identify healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. Children are naturally drawn to bright colours, so using the “eat the rainbow” analogy is helpful. You can turn this into an activity by asking your child to list as many orange fruits and vegetables as they can think of (then red, yellow, etc.). Your child will quickly begin to make the connection that food is fuel, and healthy foods give them the nutrients they need to help them grow strong and engage in their favourite activities.
Teach Your Child Where the Food They Eat Comes From
Once you’ve discussed what healthy eating is and why it’s important, continue to make teaching fun and interactive.
While eating together, talk to your child about what you are eating and where it comes from. Discuss with your child what they are eating; for example, if you are eating a salad, talk about each component. Does it grow in the ground? Or on a tree or a bush?
Encourage your child to be curious about where the food on their plate comes from and try your best to answer any questions they might have.
Show your child where their food comes from. Once your child starts to think about the source of their food, allow them to see and experience for themselves how their food is made. For example, go berry picking at your local farm so they can see where berries grow, or plant vegetables in your backyard garden or on your balcony. Start with easy vegetables like tomatoes or beans and harvest them together once they have grown.
Show Your Child Which Foods Should Be Consumed Daily vs. in Moderation
Start with leading by example. Your child watches the foods you put on your plate. Encourage your child to taste the foods that you’re eating at dinner and ask questions. It can take anywhere from 1 to 30 or more times to introduce a new food before your child accepts it, so keep getting them to try as often as you can.
When teaching your child about nutrition, show them how to differentiate between healthy foods that should be eaten daily and other foods that should only be eaten sometimes. You can make this super simple by doing an activity. Have a list of foods that they can put into two buckets: the “anytime” bucket and the “sometimes” bucket. Then reinforce the game at mealtime. For example, if they selected broccoli as a healthy, daily food and you have broccoli on the table, remind them that it was one of the healthy foods they chose earlier and encourage them to try it.
To help you and your child stay on track, we've created a free printable PDF featuring anytime and sometime foods. Download here!
Include Your Child in the Process of Eating Healthy
- Continue to empower your child by including them in the process of choosing what food they eat.
- Take your child grocery shopping and point out the different types of healthy foods.
- Ask your child to assist you in cooking, especially if they’ve picked the fruits or vegetables.
- If your child is older, you can show them how to read nutrition labels.
- Instead of putting your child’s plate together for them during mealtime, just put out a variety of healthy foods and encourage your child to make their own plate.
- When making their snacks, have your child choose which fruits to put on their yogurt and which veggie side they want to eat. Your child will feel a sense of autonomy and pride from having a role in their food choices.
Healthy Habits Take Time
Building habits takes time and repetition. Be patient with both your child and yourself as you integrate healthy nutrition habits into your family’s lifestyle – it’s a process that you are embarking on together. When you can, incorporate activities that are easy for your child to do.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this Healthy Habit Building series!