Develop early age Healthy Eating Habits
Habit is the hardest thing to break. Most of the habits are formed during childhood. As a parent, it is really important to ensure that our kids adapt to good habits. Healthy eating habits are important habits that a child must adopt. Because once they pick good habits, they will continue with them for their lifetime.
C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, USA conducted a survey and found that 97% of the parents in the U.S. think that childhood healthy eating habits are important as these eating habits determine their lifetime health.
The study also found that many parents do not promote healthy eating habits in children.
As a mother, it was my major concern. My son Garv, is a big foodie. Like many other kids, he loves junk and sugary food. And like other mothers, I did not know how to ask him not to eat such food. Everyone is aware of obesity issues related to junk and sugary food.
I thought to become a strict parent and restrict junk and sugary food at home. But for how long and how much, was a question. And by being strict, will I help my child understand the reason to say “No” to junk food? Or will it only increase his craving of eating such food?
I needed to find a better way to deal with it
Are you concerned about your child's health? Are you struggling with building healthy eating habits with your child? Then read this till the end. I will reveal my 12 step process and how did I achieve this. A step by step process that worked in the background without anyone realizing the change. The eating habits were getting altered, but nobody realized. I stopped saying “No”. But learned how to tweak the lifestyle that helped my child to adopt healthy eating habits.
Human beings are born copycats. Kids generally pick their habits at home from their parents. What that meant to me was to make some lifestyle changes in myself and help my child build good eating habits. It was time for me to think and build a plan.
I observed for two days and made a few notes of everything he ate or asked to eat. And those notes were an eye-opener for me. Let me share a few of my observations with you.
- Drank a good amount of water (always keeps a water bottle with him).
- He would crave for something sweet after every meal.
- Picked one or two candies every now and then from the box of candies.
- He would try to avoid Chapati’s and vegetables, but very much happy to eat baked items or sandwiches.
- He would love to eat fruits at any time of the day.
The list is long, but I would limit to these few findings which were important for me.
After I gathered my data points, it was time for me to make the lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes within the elders that encourage the child to gradually adopt them. I knew this will take time, but the outcome will be everlasting. Also, I will not need to paint myself as a villain by constantly saying “No” to unhealthy things.
Step by Step plan for healthy eating habits
I decided to take mini-steps to ensure that my plan does not become evident to my child and to my husband. I was to make his eating habits also correct.
Step 1: Scheduled Meal Timings
My first step was to put meal timings and adhere to them. Made it a mandate that breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner will have specific timings. No matter what, everyone has to eat at the scheduled time. I needed to discipline myself to be consistent with the routine.
It was difficult in the beginning, but I remained focused. It took some time, but in 10 days or so, everybody got adjusted to the routine. In fact, the body got accustomed to the schedule and they started eating during the scheduled time.
I was happy and encouraged to see my first mini-plan becoming successful.
Step 2: Eating Together made Compulsory
The next thing I targeted, was television. I pushed everyone to eat at the dinner table and not in the bedroom, where we have the television. The results were awesome. Everyone would eat their meal on time. They knew what they were eating and how much. Moreover, they were enjoying the meal and family time instead of watching the idiot box.
My child added to my plan by ensuring that his father is not on the phone/laptop while eating. In the quest of “tit for tat”, he was able to help me. Because he was not allowed to bring his Tab on the dining table, he restricted his father's cellphone usage. Win-Win situation for me.
Step 3: Provide Healthier Choices
It was time to take the next mini step. Now that everyone was eating on time and distraction-free, it was time to keep a check on what are they eating.
Maybe it is just my family, but before every meal, my family asked me what is there to eat? I would tell them the food I had prepared and almost 90% of the time they will demand something different. Generally, something which is unhealthy. I figured out that something strange. I found that whenever they made a decision about what to eat, they were happier. Maybe they feel more empowered when they choose what they eat.
I made a small change in the way I would tell them about food. Next time when they asked what is there to eat, I gave them two options. Both options were from the list of healthy eating.
But now that they had the choice, they picked one for them. For me, it did not matter what they pick. What mattered was that they felt happy and yet picked something healthy to eat. I didn’t know that it will be so easy for me to make them a healthy selection.
Step 4: Tweak Junk Food to Healthy Food
Once I made an alteration to the meals, it was time to take care of junk food eating. Let me give you some examples. My kid loves to eat burgers. I need not convince anyone how bad they are, but at the same time, you cannot stop the craving.
I started making whole wheat burger buns at home. Instead of saying no to the burger, I replaced the all-purpose bun with a homemade whole wheat healthy bun. The patties that I used were a vegetable patty that was shallow-fried instead of deep-fried.
Similarly, instead of saying no to pizzas, I started baking whole wheat base and lentil base pizzas at home. Instead of saying no to sandwiches, I said let me make one for you. I started baking semolina bread, multigrain bread, and whole wheat bread. Sandwiches from these bread are delicious yet healthy. My husband loves Vada Pav, so I started baking stuffed Pavs for him.
They were happy that I stopped saying “No” to what they wanted to eat. I was happy that I changed the unhealthy food to healthy food. Baking at home has its own benefits and I have expressed them in my article “Why one should start baking at home”. When the ingredients are in your control, you are better equipped to develop healthy eating habits.
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Step 5: Included more Leafy Options
Step 4 is the extension of step 3. I made it a point that I will give them options to choose from. But at the same time, I had to be careful about the options that I present in front of them.
I included a lot of leafy options and also was mindful to add a lot of colorful options. In my experience, whenever the food is more colorful, then my husband and my child will eat it without fuss.
Now I had a lot more control over what is going in their tummy, but a lot was still out of control. I had to make more plans and drop other unhealthy eating as well.
Step 6: Replaced Regular Snacks with Healthy Snacks
My next goal was to change unhealthy snacking into healthy snacking. I had to put some extra effort here. I started keeping fresh baked healthy muffins e.g. banana muffins and carrot date muffins. These are whole wheat muffins and the sweetness is mostly because of the fruits in them.
I again used my rule of giving them choices in snacking. On the other side, I started removing chips, wafers, and sweets from the kitchen. No more aerated drinks and packaged juices in the refrigerator.
The transition was slow that did not let their mind realize the shift that I was making in their snacking. Finally, the unhealthy snacks were taken over by completely healthy snacks contributing to healthy eating habits.
Step 7: Replaced Chocolates to Fruits
My son used to keep his candies at different places in the home. He also had a box of candies that he will keep on the refrigerator and often will pick some candies from it. I started to replace these boxes with fruit bags.
I kept a big fruit basket on the dining table and made the fruits reachable and available to my child all the time. In the absence of chocolate, he started picking figs, plums, and bananas.
It took me 4 months to achieve this and by and large, I was happy with the progress. But I had a few more things in my mind.
Step 8: Replaced Sugar with Glucose
Now that most of the eating was inline I decided to make another small change. I reduced the amount of sugar we used in milk, shakes, and juices.
.The amount of cut down in each attempt was important and I was careful to reduce only 10% of the sugar in 2 weeks. I knew within 2 months the amount of sugar going in the milk and other drinks will reduce to half.
My research further leads me to understand that glucose is better to eat than sugar. I stopped adding sugar to the drinks and switched to glucose.
Step 9: No more Eating on the Run
I was never happy with my child eating in a hurry. He will always have some of the other friends calling him to come down to play. Most of the time he will just swallow his food to rush to these friends.
I had to be strict here, which he did not like. But I could not find an alternative to being strict in this case. I encouraged and pushed my child to sit down, relax and eat. The guidelines were simple, chew the food properly. It was impossible for me to develop healthy eating habits unless the food is chewed properly.
Step 10: Involved my child in Grocery buying
I now had better control over what my child is eating. But I was not able to articulate what makes junk food and sugary food unhealthy. No matter how much I explain, children are not really interested in listening.
I recalled the push and pull marketing concepts. Consequently, I decided not to push information on my child, rather help him pull the information for himself.
I involved him during my grocery shopping. I would ask him to look at the price, manufacturing date, expiry date, and ingredients. Yes, he would not understand most of the ingredients, but the goal was to make him read.
I would further encourage him to find out what that ingredient is and its benefits and impacts. Trust me, the more he read, the more informative he was. He now knows why I call a few things unhealthy.
Step 11: Involved my child in cooking
Think about why you are more conscious about what to eat and what not to. Maybe you are the one who mostly cooks instead of your spouse. By and large, everyone wants to excel in whatever they do. A painter wants to make a better painting. A carpenter wants to make a better chair. So is a cook wants to make a healthier meal?
Using this logic, I started adding my child to my cooking and baking activities. While cooking we will talk about the ingredients and their benefits. I would encourage him to talk about his ideas of what he would want to make and why. The grocery buying activities helped him take a conscious decision of the ingredients he wants to use. The more he was involved in cooking and baking with me, the more he started thinking about developing healthy eating habits.
Step 12: Drink More Water
This was actually not for my child, this step was for me. I drink less water and suffer from swelling and pain issues. Doctors have advised me to increase the intake of water. I know the benefits of drinking about 2-3 liters of water, but I always ignored it. Now that I was able to put a good control on my family diet, it was time for me to regulate myself.
My child anyways drinks a lot of water, which he has learned from his father. If a child builds a habit of drinking enough water, he will never have digestion issues.
The best thing we can give back to society is a healthy child. This was the 10 step Mantra that helped me develop healthy eating habits not only with my child but the entire family. Eating healthy is the step forward to stop/avoid health issues like obesity, heart diseases, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetics, and cancer.
22% of Indian kids are obese and 1 out of 3 kids are found to be obese in the USA. This is scary. I have made changes in the lifestyle and I am certain that my child's health will improve from here on. I have already started seeing the changes. The most important change is in the thinking pattern of my child. He now talks if he is eating healthy or not. I see him saying “No” to junk food when we are out.
I am sure just like me, you would have tried many other things that would have worked with you. Why not share those ideas in the comment sections. Your ideas will help many mothers.