One of the most difficult parts about being a parent is having to make food choices every day on behalf of your children. Making these choices is a tremendous responsibility: the food culture and that your child grows up with will stay with them for the rest of their life. By consistently making healthy food decisions for those in and around your family, you can help send your child down the path to a positive relationship with food and an overall healthy existence.
Keep a Food Schedule
One of the easiest ways to fall into an unhealthy eating pattern is to eat during odd times of the day or fail to keep a proper meal schedule. There are many different opinions for frequency and timing of meals: some workout enthusiasts claim that eating five or six smaller meals per day encourages muscle growth, and most Europeans eat their large family meal around lunch to facilitate better digestion. The finer points can be debated endlessly, but the fact is that maintaining a meal schedule allows for healthier eating habits to emerge.
As a parent, your life is an endless maze of soccer practices and band recitals. Unhealthy food decisions, like ordering greasy Chinese takeout or a pepperoni pizza, occur when other parts of life overwhelm the instinct to eat properly. Planning meals in advance changes the calculus of these decisions. If you know what meal you are going to make, and have already purchased the ingredients in advance, the temptation to break down and order out is diminished. Making plans and sticking to them is the best way to save yourself time, stress, and unnecessary calories.
Keep Healthy Snacks Around the House
Meals alone are never going to completely satiate children, let alone growing teenagers. The trick, then, is to stock the pantry with healthy snacks so that between-meal binges do not ruin appetites. There are many healthy snack foods that are both filling and nutritious: peanuts, walnuts, avocados, rice and beans, granola, and fruits and vegetables are all dense in much-needed nutrients and are designed to fill stomachs for hours on end.
Accept the Lesser of Two Evils
Eventually, our busy schedules will occasionally force us to eat out at fast food restaurants or dining chains. In these cases, it is best to simply teach your children about the contents of fast food and the difference that a simple healthy choice can make in a meal. Fast food chains are offering more and more healthy options to cater to their health-conscious clientele, and although these options will never sufficiently replace proper health food, fast food is no longer synonymous with burgers and fries. Wendy’s offers apple slices and yogurt, and McDonald’s offers vegan wraps and avocado sandwiches. Even some vending machine services offer healthy options these days. Teaching your children to properly navigate the treacherous waters of dining out could have serious positive impacts on health.
Try New Things in the Kitchen
Kids are often set in their ways, but trying new styles of cooking as a parent could open them up to culinary experiences that blow thoughts of ordering pizza right out of their heads. Starting out with simple, tasty Indian recipes is a great way to rebrand boring, old vegetables like broccoli or carrots as exciting additions to a spicy meal.
Let Them Cheat Sometimes
Even the strictest diets allow space for a cheat day or two every once in a while. Children respond well to occasional breaks from the healthy routine, and one cheeseburger never killed anyone. Many healthy eaters find that their unhealthy urges actually fade in time, as they notice the positive changes in their bodies and minds.
Children are often very impressionable, and showing them how to properly maintain a healthy food lifestyle can stick with them forever. The food decisions that you make—whole wheat over white, water over soda, even sweet potatoes over fries—will implant themselves in your child’s psyche and determine their preferences and habits for years to come.