We must teach our kids a foundation for healthy eating habits. Unfourtuanelty, this can be challenging for busy nurse moms, who often struggle to eat properly, exercise regularly, or get enough sleep as it is due to our crazy working-mom lifestyles.
So, how do we help our families adopt healthier eating choices when it seems like life is always getting in the way? Here are a few fun suggestions that have worked for my own family. I hope they help you too!
Involve children in the meal planning process
Kids love to feel like they are a part of things, and they are more likely to want to eat healthy foods if they are included in the food preparation experience. Grant your children some say in which foods you bring into the house.
For example, if I plan to purchase grapes at the store, I will ask my son which color he wants. When we go to the grocery store together, I let him help me select the produce items that he thinks are the most appealing. Search recipes together for inspiration, so you all can be excited about the meals you will have that week.
I personally love Pinterest and use it as my primary means of saving and organizing recipes. Each child can be allowed to make one or two “special requests” for either a specific food they would like to have or a particular meal they want to eat.
Sometimes it is not realistic to prepare a family meal every single night. Here is a solution for that: make double batches when you cook to ensure that you have extra nutritious food that can easily be reheated as leftovers later in the week. When I worked 12-hour day shifts, I would often make a tray of lasagna, enchiladas, or casserole on my days off. That way, my husband could easily prepare healthy dinners for the family in my absence.
By preparing meals ahead of time, we eliminated the temptation to pick up fast food on the way home when we were exhausted and starving.
Encourage children to help out in the kitchen
Even young children can make handy kitchen porters. They can help mix, measure, and stir years before they are old enough to be trusted near a hot stove or sharp instruments.
My son picked out a set of miniature set of kitchen tools (a small spatula, whisk, and tongs) for himself, and it makes him feel extra special when he assists me in the kitchen. You may have to do a little extra clean up at the end, but be patient and praise your culinary apprentices for helping! Fond memories and a love of cooking will be ingrained for life.
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Forget the “clean plate club”
Children are very good at self-regulating their food intake. Telling kids they must finish their food, even if they insist that they are not hungry, can cause them to tune out their innate cues of fullness and may set them up to become chronic overeaters later in life.
Lead by example
Kids are always observing, and you need to practice what you preach. The nutrition standards you set for them as a parent will go further than anything you say. However, don’t always expect perfection of yourself. Parenting is hard, and some days just getting the kids fed is an accomplishment.
Holiday get-togethers, family dinners, and parties with cake and candy are perfectly fine in moderation. The point is that if you eat a variety of wholesome foods each day, your children will develop an appreciation for fresh, healthy eating as well.
Additional Information to help teach children healthy eating habits
The American Academy at Pediatrics has an archive of articles with evidence-based advice on healthy eating for children that you can find here. Consult with your children’s pediatrician or primary care provider if you have questions regarding your children’s specific dietary needs.
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