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Avoid Teaching Kids Unhealthy Eating Habits

Frustrated parents who struggle with their kids’ eating habits may not realize that part of their frustration has to do with bad habits their kids picked up…from them! 

Let’s look at some things that well-meaning parents often do that may develop unhealthy habits in their kids. Then we’ll look at how to promote healthy habits. Here are some suggestions.

Dessert as a Bargaining Tool

It’s so easy to slip into this one. Kids bargain – “Have I eaten enough for dessert yet?” Then they eat one more green bean and ask the same question. 

Parents get flustered and frustrated how much is “enough” for dessert? Kids try to eat the minimum to get to dessert sooner. It just gets to be a battle for everyone. So try not to use dessert for leverage (tips below)!

Clean Your Plate

In a nation plagued by overeating, this is hardly good eating advice! Let your kids eat until they are full, and make sure everyone begins with small portions. You can always get more, but you can’t put it back!

Don’t Eat That, or You’ll Ruin Your Meal

No parent wants their child to be too full of potato chips to eat their dinner. But withholding food from a hungry child doesn’t send a friendly message; not snacking between meals can mean ravenous eaters at mealtimes, and ravenous eaters don’t know when to stop. 

This may set the stage for overeating. To avoid this, schedule snacks (more on that below), or let your child snack on tidbits of the ingredients you’re cooking with.

Serve It Again…and Again

It’s not even safe to serve kids the same food until they eat it (bacteria can grow on and in food that sits for long periods), nor is it a healthy practice to make kids stay at the table until they’ve eaten everything. It adds much stress to mealtimes, perhaps resulting in your child under- or over-eating.

Jarred Baby Food

Nutritionists have speculated that tasteless, jarred baby food all the same smooth texture ruins a baby’s and child’s appetite for various tastes and textures for years. It may be true!

Instead of packing the puree into your baby, coarsely mash up some adult food (or at least whole foods, like bananas or steamed carrots) and let them eat that.

Promoting Healthy Habits

In addition to avoiding the above, it’s a good idea to be proactive in developing healthy eating habits for your kids. Here are some basics.

  • Allow for snacking – In fact, schedule your snack times and plan for healthy foods at those times. This helps stave off the “can’t wait for dinner” problem!
  • Eat until you’re full – Try to take a basic, relaxed approach – here is your food, eat what you want. If your child only eats a little, cover and refrigerate leftovers and break them out when your child is hungry later. Kids eat small portions. 
  • Toss dessert – A straightforward solution to the dessert battle is to do away with dessert, period. Just don’t serve it. Another idea is to serve dessert an hour after dinner. Your kids may eat more dinner if they have to wait. They may even forget about dessert!

Yet another idea is to have healthy desserts as part of the meal, such as mixed fruit with vanilla yogurt sauce, spiced nuts, or low-sugar baked apples. Just serve that part of the meal last, and don’t even call it “dessert”! 

Avoid Teaching Kids Unhealthy Eating Habits

Avoid Teaching Kids Unhealthy Eating Habits

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