Simple rules for healthy eating as a family – does this even exist?! Ha!
Healthy living can seem so intimidating and almost impossible if you have kids. But it is so, so important to start raising healthy eaters as early as possible, because the early years can have such a huge impact!
I already have a post about clean eating for beginners and one about 5 Secrets to Healthy Eating Every Mom Needs to Know. So I really wanted to give you some more information about healthy habits that revolve around eating, but aren’t about food itself.
Some are simple to implement, others are a little more challenging – but they’re all actionable and achievable, so I hope you’ll dive right in!
Simple Rules for Healthy Eating as a Family:
1. Eat together
Why has it become so acceptable that families don’t have dining tables anymore, eat individually in front of the TV?
Parents eating after the kids are in bed?
Don’t beat yourself up if this is your current situation right now. You’re probably feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and tired in your role as a mom, which is why you needed to take the easiest route.
But since you’re here, I’m assuming you want to change things. And even if you’re eating together as a family currently, you can still pay attention to the following things to help foster good eating habits in your kids:
Be a good example example. Parents are what kids model their behavior after. If you (or your partner) push the salad to the side of the plate, refuse to eat the veggies or loudly complain about the “bird food” you’re serving up, the kids will start modelling that behavior.
Instead, eat healthfully together. Be each other’s support group when it comes to trying new things. Comment on how crunchy the salad is, on how well-seasoned the poached salmon tastes, on the fluffiness of the sweet potato wedges.
Eat healthy food without making a fuss about it.
If you feel stuck or are introducing a totally new food and are scared of tantrums, try leveraging kids’ natural curiosity: Only serve yourself and eat without fussing (= model the behavior you want to see) and wait if your kids show interest.
2. Positive vibes around the table
Did you know that some psychological studies show that women with eating disorders experienced a lot of fighting and negative emotions during family meals in their childhood?
Of course there’s WAY more going into such a dramatic condition, but I’m saying it just to show how much impact the atmosphere around family meals can have.
Try to be a community around the table, not a bunch of enemies. If you and your partner (or you and a kid, or the kids among themselves) are often having hefty arguments during meals, try to install a “Politeness Policy” for meals.
But don’t dine in silence either! Talk about your day, ask your kids questions or discuss a topic as a family. Foster your little community while you’re eating, to make mealtimes something you all look forward to as a place to connect.
3. Don’t forbid
Ever gone on a diet and told yourself you were not allowed certain foods for s period of time, only to then start craving said foods more and more?
Yeah, I feel you. Strict rules simply don’t work (UNLESS there are allergies or food sensitivities involved, of course!!).
If you tell your kids they’re strictly not allowed to eat sweets, sugar, flour, wheat, cereal… whatever any longer, they will go out of their way to eat a lot of it whenever they get the chance. Or, even worse, they’ll start secretly eating forbidden foods.
So, even if you’re cringing and screaming on the inside and already not looking forward to crazy sugar-rush behavior the rest of the day, let your kid have the cupcake at the mommy-and-me meet up (yes, I’ve been to mom and baby POWER WALKS where they served chocolates, juice and gummy bears afterwards, wish I was kidding, but sadly I’m not).
I look at it this way: If most of the food we eat at home is really nutritious, well-balanced and delicious, a treat every now and then may cause me a really exhausting afternoon with mood swings and irrational tantrums, but otherwise everything is going to be fine.
Which leads me to my next point:
4. Teach through experience, not through theory
You’ve been eating amazing, healthy, balanced meals and snacks for a week. Your kids’ behavior is really starting to notably change, they’re more balanced and you’re a calmer and more energized mom.
Then the cashier at the store gives your kid a sweet without asking your permission (not OK, either, but it happens all.the.time).
You could tell your child how awful she’ll feel after eating it. How he’ll undo all the good work.
And then probably wrestle the treat out of their hand, causing a major tantrum anyways.
You will TELL your child what to expect, but they’ll never actually EXPERIENCE what that sweet will make them feel like.
Instead, if your kid is old enough, ask them to pay close attention to how they’re feeling NOW and how they’re feeling after treating themselves. You can use a smiley system, show them on your phone:
? ☺️ ? ? ?
Usually kids are very intuitive about this, and with the smiley you give them an easy way to express their emotions.
But don’t go the “I told you so”, “unhealthy food makes you feel terrible” route afterwards. Focus on the positive instead: “I love how healthy, balanced meals make us feel so much better! They make us strong so we can wrestle/play/dance together. Isn’t that amazing?”
5. Foster independence
Your kids are able to eat by themselves much sooner than you might think.
We spoon-fed our first daughter initially, but at 7 months we switched to giving her finger foods. Our second daughter refuses to consume anything she’s fed, so she only eats when she can feed herself. Which she started at around 6 months, grabbing food off our plates.
We always had ur kids at the table with us for most meals, starting from day one. As newborns they’d sleep in a wrap or on our arm, then a little later they’d watch us eat and eventually they’d transfer to their Tripp Trapp.
I absolutely love the Tripp Trapp high chair! If you have a baby you can put down (neither of mine allowed this, which made me a tired mama with really strong arms, ha!), you can even get the Stokke Steps high chair with the baby bouncer mounted, so you have a safe place for your baby to join the family table from birth.
We have a Tripp Trapp for both kids, as they can be used until their grown. And Em would never give up hers anyways ?
Here you can get the Tripp Trapp as it is recommended after 3 years, and the baby set, seat cushion and tray to use from 6 months:
This is the Stokke Steps and the baby bouncer you can mount to use from birth:
Finally, I want to add: Don’t sweat the small stuff.
If your baby refuses to eat independently and demands to be fed, feed him. If your kids hate cooking, bake with them instead. If they hate baking, have them do the dishes ?
If an argument happens during dinner, apologize to each other afterwards and hug until you all feel better.
If you really, truly, absolutely, vehemently don’t want your kid to drink the deep-blue artificial sports drink at the birthday party and a huge scene erupts, cut yourself some slack instead of feeling guilty.
Nobody is perfect, and the biggest and bestest thing you can do in raising healthy, mindful eaters is acknowledging your faults and (unashamedly) admitting to your kids that you make mistakes, too. Apologizing to them as an equal if you messed up.
And after you made a mistake, tell them you’ll try to better trust their own ability to know what’s good for their bodies and soul in the future. Not only will they appreciate the honesty and equality they receive from you, but it will also give them a sense of responsibility for their own actions in the future.
For more tips about healthy eating, check out all my resources here: How To Eat Healthy For Beginners.
* I make a commission for purchases made through some links in this post.
END THE MEALTIME STRUGGLE TODAY!
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