Just as you have to stay on your kids to brush their teeth, wash their hands, and clean their fingernails, healthy eating is a learned behavior — and one that takes time to develop. Real moms share how they’ve mastered the job of food role models to create families of healthy eaters.
Make food shopping special.
When kids feel like they’re involved in the decisions about what goes into their mouths, they take pride in what and how they eat. Erica Zidel has made food trips an event in her household. “In the summer, my 5-year-old son, Gavin, and I visit our local farmers market almost every week. He loves seeing the farmers who grow our produce, and I love that he understands that food comes from the earth, not from a grocery store. The rest of the year, we get our produce from a CSA; a local farm delivers a box of assorted fruits and vegetables to us each week. We’ve made ‘farm box day’ into a special day.”
Build cooking confidence.
When kids feel comfortable with their cooking skills, they want to show them off and become a part of meal preparation. Suddenly, those brightly colored packages of processed foods lose their luster, and kids understand that they can make a better option on their own. Janita Pavelka literally sings the praises of cooking from scratch, putting the mantra “anything the store has, I can make better!” into a tune for her kids. “If the children want chocolate chip cookies, make them from scratch. Use butter or margarine, honey, farm-fresh eggs, whole-wheat organic pastry flour and dark chocolate chips. If they are craving ice cream, make it homemade with healthy, organic ingredients,” Pavelka says.
Form a foodie bond.
Activities such as cooking and gardening provide great opportunities to create lasting memories for your family. Bernadette Giorgi found a lasting hobby in gardening with her kids. “We have an organic garden that my kids, up until they left for college, helped me with. It was awesome bonding time, and they learned appreciation for where their food comes from.”
Stick to your guns.
Raising healthy eaters takes time and patience, and it requires holding firm to the big picture — even when giving in is easier in the short-term. Nisha Riggs started early with her young toddlers. “They can be so picky, but rather than giving into their endless desire for PB&J and mac and cheese, we all eat the same thing for dinner. Whatever mom and dad are having, they have. Our plates are always at least half full of fresh fruits and veggies.”
Watch your words.
Nicole Palacios, a personal trainer and mom to three girls, makes sure that her kids learn to eat healthy and never uses the “d” and “f” words (as in diet and fat!). “They see me eating regular meals throughout the day, and we never talk about diets or losing weight. We discuss the health benefits of foods in terms of ‘too much sugar’ or ‘no added nutrition,’ rather than ‘this will make you fat’.”