How to Encourage Children to Create Healthy Habits
Last updated: September 2023
I think we can all agree that building healthy eating habits is a lifelong goal. Starting certain practices at a young age can help habits stick for the long term.
Lowering risk of type 2 diabetes
There are lifestyle choices, such as diet and physical activity, that can help decrease the risk of conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.1
How to teach healthy habits
If you are a parent or caregiver and are looking to instill some simple, healthy habits in the young loved ones in your life, here are some recommendations.
1. Lead by example
Yes, we are jumping right into the tough one. If you want your children or grandchildren to eat certain foods and to get a certain amount of physical activity each day, it is extremely helpful if you are doing the same.
Children learn by example, and if you prioritize exercise and fruit and vegetable intake, they will too! But if you force them to eat certain foods and play certain games while you choose to eat different snacks and sit on the couch, they may be less likely to go the healthier route.
2. Offer a variety of choices
You may remember the "5 a day" motto for eating fruits and vegetables. Years ago, we were all encouraged to shoot for 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
One of the best ways to meet this goal is to offer various options. Each week, try a different food or combination of foods while still keeping your tried-and-true favorites in the house. You can even consider serving them a different way.
For example, try boiling apples to make unsweetened applesauce or roasting carrots instead of eating them raw. This offers different tastes and textures, which may be more likely to keep the attention of your little ones (and even you!).
3. Talk about foods in a neutral way
Telling kids that eating certain foods will make them "fat" or even calling your own body names can be detrimental as they navigate their changing bodies and appetites.
Try to be as neutral as you can around foods and instead offer a value that each food provides. "My body doesn't feel its best when I eat a lot of doughnuts, so I am going to eat some carrots, which are good for my eyes!"
4. Encourage physical activity
Kids indeed have more energy to burn, but supporting them in this endeavor is a win-win situation. Try playing catch outside with them. Sign them up for sports and attend their games.
The skills they develop during individual and team sports are excellent for confidence building. Sports can also be a great outlet for stress. And as adults, we can understand how essential stress outlets can be. We can also benefit from the added activity and time spent outside.
5. Enjoy meals together
Of course, this is only sometimes possible due to work and school or sports schedules, but trying to eat meals together often can help set these eating habits into place.
If you can make a meal that everyone likes versus being a short-order cook, that is even more helpful in pushing them to eat a variety. That doesn't mean each person's plate looks exactly the same.
For example, someone may choose a taco salad on taco night, while others may prefer hard-shell or soft-shell tacos. This way, kids feel confident in their meals since mom, dad, or even their grandparents are eating them, too!
Whether you choose to try one or all of these steps, encouraging healthy eating habits in youth is something we can all do, and it may lead to a healthier and brighter future for them!
Do you find it difficult to "eat right" and stick to a nutrition plan?