Raising Healthy Eaters
Certified Health and Wellness Coach and Momma to three boys, Chelsey Russell, joins us with her top 4 tips for creating healthy habits and raising healthy eaters!
I am a certified Health Coach who specializes in helping busy moms eat real food. Another passion close to my heart is raising healthy kids. I have three boys of my own and have gone through many of the challenges we moms face when it comes to trying to get our toddlers to eat healthy foods. More than any previous generation in our lifetime, I think we are hungry to raise mindful, healthy eaters.
This will look slightly different for each family but overall we want our children consistently meeting their nutritional needs in order to fully function and grow. This includes regularly eating a variety of protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats.
When I think about toddlers and food, I can’t help but remember the pressure I put on myself to ensure my first child was eating a variety of foods and well balanced meals. This led to many very frustrating meal times, power struggles, and unnecessary stress on myself.
I want to help you feel freedom around meal times and give you some tips and tricks to raise happy, healthy eaters!
Be an Example
Kids are constantly watching their parents and picking up on their habits and cues. This applies to many areas of parenting and certainly includes meal time. We as parents must model healthy eating habits. If you need help getting your eating habits on a healthy track, I would love to guide you toward that place.
Here are some things you can do to set a good example of healthy eating behaviors for your toddler:
- Make sitting down to a meal as a family a priority.
- When your toddler sees the family eating healthy foods and not complaining, they are more likely to follow suit.
- Avoid snacking in front of the TV or engaging with any media while eating.
- We want to raise mindful eaters so make it a habit early on to use language like, “we sit down at the table to eat and when you are finished we will sit on the couch to watch a show.”
- Enjoy healthy snacks with your kids- veggies with ranch, fruit with nut butter/yogurt dip, veggie chips and hummus, whole grain muffins, fruit/veggie smoothies.
- Talk about what YOU are eating, instead of putting emphasis on what they are or are not eating.
- “These carrots are orange and really crunchy. I love carrots.”
Don’t make food a power struggle with your toddler. I love that Moms on Call directs parents not to over celebrate each bite or make children eat X number of bites. It is my job to provide the food, it is my toddler’s job to eat it. Meal times are so much less stressful now that I am not counting bites and bribing my toddler to eat. If the child is hungry, they will eat.
Here are some practical tips on how to have more relaxing mealtimes:
- Depending on their age, offer small portions of each food.
- Avoid overwhelming the toddler with too much food.
- If the toddler doesn’t eat much, wrap their plate and put it in the fridge.
- When they are hungry later on, reheat the food and offer it to them again.
- Avoid giving in to offering snacks if the main meal was not eaten.
- There are two options: Eat the meal provided or don’t eat.
- Stay consistent and wait until the next scheduled snack or mealtime to offer food again.
Now you may be thinking- but I can’t send my child to bed hungry after he refused to eat the dinner I provided. I totally agree. At dinnertime, the option is eat what is provided or don’t eat at all and I stick to that. About 30 minutes before bedtime I offer one nutritious healthy snack. In our house, that is one banana. Bananas are rich in sleep-promoting nutrients like magnesium and tryptophan making it the perfect bedtime snack.
Recognize Their Preferences
Even grown ups have foods that we really don’t like. It is great to continue to offer foods to your toddler over and over again. Exposing them to the foods your family eats on a regular basis, regardless of if they throw it on the floor the first time they try it, is really important. We will be consistent even when our toddlers are not. Avoid being a short order cook and stick to making one meal for your whole family. But we can be mindful to incorporate foods we know they do love while introducing new foods.
Here are some tips for introducing new foods and keeping mealtime practical:
- Offer at least one food at each meal that you know they like and are comfortable with. This may be shredded cheese, a fruit, chicken with ketchup (utilize those dips!), mac and cheese.
- Try preparing the same food in a different way.
- For example, my kids groaned over cooked broccoli and carrots so I left them raw and added ranch- now they gobble them up every time. Canned corn goes untouched but corn on the cob is a winner.
- Deconstruct the meal.
- I want to make enchiladas for dinner but two of my kids don’t like them. Instead of making a different meal, I will set aside some tortillas, cheese and meat and offer that to them on a divided plate.
- Expose the toddler to each food separately and slowly work toward the more complex meal.
Involve Them in Cooking
Many special memories are made with kids in the kitchen. Ok, I have 3 boys so when I say ‘special’ I really mean messy. But there are many ways to get your kids young and old in the kitchen with you. Give them a job to do and watch them closely. Eventually, it will get easier.
Here are some ways to have your toddler help you at meal time:
- Let them pick one meal that you will cook that week.
- Give them 2-3 reasonable options. Alternatively, let them pick a side dish.
- I keep small cans of green beans, carrots, etc. in the pantry and let my 2 year old use a kid knife and a cutting board and ask him to be my big helper by cutting up canned veggies!
- Expose your toddlers to new foods, textures and smells with this trick while you cook the real meal.
- Ask them to try the food with you as you cook.
- For example, before making spaghetti let them try a noodle and ask “is this too crunchy? Of course it is! We need to cook it.”
I hope these tips were helpful as you raise healthy eaters! You are doing the worthy work of laying a solid foundation for a healthy relationship with food that your children will carry with them throughout their life. What an amazing gift! You got this!