Sharing some ideas on how to set healthy examples for kids, teach them about health, and get them excited about nutrition.
Hi friends! How’s the week going? We’re having the dreamiest time in Hawaii; I never want to leave.
For today’s post, I’m answering a reader’s request about teaching kids about nutrition and setting a healthy example for kids as they grow up. While I’m not an expert in this (please keep in mind that I’m NOT an RD), it’s been important to me to model healthy behaviors our babies can keep for life. In today’s post, I’m sharing some of the things that have worked for us, and as always, I love hearing your input, too!
Show, don’t tell
This is my #1 tip and I could probably just end this post here. A lot of the things the kids know about nutrition, they’ve learned from watching us and how we eat, how we plan our meals, and how we shop. I don’t have to really “tell” them anything; kids are little sponges and are always soaking up information from the world around them.
I love the fact that our kiddos are adventurous eaters who seem to enjoy food as much as we do. They’re not picky and will try anything, and while they each have a giant sweet tooth (I do, too!), they also enjoy lots of fresh produce, protein, healthy fats, and nutrient-dense starches on their plates. One of my biggest goals for nutrition for the girls was to teach them about balance, which they can only learn if I model that myself. I’ll have a giant salad, but I’ll also have a cupcake or ice cream with them, and it’s no big deal. We order Domino’s pizza (they love it) and get donuts weekly. I never want anything to be *weird* or forbidden, and they know that we focus on colorful, fresh foods from the earth + room for the soul-hugging stuff in there, too.
(Their favorite snack: smoked oysters and skinless/bonless sardines. They eat them straight-up out of the can.)
This can be hard if you’ve grown up with a tricky relationship with food, but remember that kids are always watching. Enjoy treats guilt-free and don’t talk about how food affects your physical appearance. Instead, you can say things like, “I’m going to have so much energy after this salad” or “soup always makes me feel better when I’m under the weather.” Or, you could also say nothing. I find that whatever I’m eating, the girls want to eat, too. I’ll often make my portions larger because I know at least half will be “tasted.”
Eat the rainbow
I don’t think kids *need* to know the vitamin, mineral content, or macro balance of their foods. Instead, they can focus on eating the rainbow. You can ask them, “Hey, did you have anything green yet today? Do you want salad, broccoli, or zucchini with dinner?” “How many colors of the rainbow can we put on our plate for lunch?”
Having a little garden has encouraged them to try new things, too. They love going outside to pick carrots, bell peppers, or salad greens. (We have melons growing right now, too!)
Give them freedom within parameters
For this one, if I know they’ve already had more sugar during the day (like a boba tea AND an ice cream at the pool), I’ll give them some more nutrient-dense choices for other meals. “Hey, do you want chicken or fish tonight?” “What veggies or fruits do you want with your meal?” The girls know that for every meal they’ll get a few constants: a protein, a starch, a healthy fat, and always a fruit or veggie (usually both with lunch and dinner). I hope that by setting up our meals this way, they’ll inherently know how to balance a plate when they get older.
Let them go shopping with you and choose new produce options
This is definitely the most fun one! Whenever we go to the store or put in an online grocery order, I let the girls each pick a new fruit or vegetable. They often surprise me with their choices and we’ve been able to discover new things this way. This makes them excited to try these new options, and I find that it also keeps us out of the monotony of having the same fruits and veggies in our rotation. It’s also fun to take them to the farmer’s market and pick out some new finds that feel exciting to them.
Involve them in the cooking process
Kids are ALWAYS more excited to eat when they helped to prepare the meal. For our dinners, I try to find age-appropriate ways to let them help, whether it’s peeling carrots, putting a salad kit together (P can do the whole thing from start to finish), washing and seasoning vegetables, harvesting herbs or greens from the garden, measuring ingredients, or chopping (with supervision the whole time, obvs). Cooking with them usually takes a tiiiiiny bit longer, but it’s totally worth it. I want them to enjoy cooking and it’s another way that we can enjoy time together. If you’re looking for a kid-friendly cookbook, the girls LOVE this one. (Liv recently told me it’s “too easy” for her, so we’re looking for a new one!)
So, tell me, friends: what habits are you trying to set up for your kids as they grow? What are some resources that have helped you?
How do you involve kids in the cooking process?