A question most parents will ask at one point is, "How can I motivate my child to eat healthier?" Luckily, you don’t need a degree in nutrition for this. It does help to have a good grasp of what it means to eat healthy, and being consistent with key behaviours as well as habits to form in relation to eating well.
Dr. Jennifer Orlet Fisher, a professor and director of the Family Eating Laboratory at Temple University in Philadelphia says, “the key for parents is to get kids to like healthy foods, not to eat healthy foods. “The eating will naturally follow the liking,” she adds.
Flavour-wise, Kids Prefer Sweet, Salty and Umami
From infancy, humans are predisposed to dislike sour and bitter foods, as these tastes are innate signals to reject specific toxins. This is basically why kids prefer sweet, salty and umami (savory taste) flavors, hence they veer toward sweets and other food with high fat content, instead of gorging away on broccoli and brussel sprouts at the dinner table.
The Challenge: Making Small Children like Healthier Food
Most kids between the ages of 2-6 are usually very skeptic to try new foods. How do we make them like their vegetables and eating healthy? It is not rocket science, but it takes a great amount of patience and consistency. Aside from starting them young, here are some important points to consider:
Naturally, children will reach for what’s in the fridge or the cupboard. Obviously, parents control the food supply. Adults buy the food and decide when to serve them. The most powerful influence to make them accept healthy foods is to simply expose them to it. Give them an active role in food preparation, grow your own herb or vegetable garden. In addition, attach positive feelings toward these activities, and about eating healthy overall. Which leads us to number 2.
Set a good example. Be a role model by eating healthy, too, and showing them that you are enjoying it.
This is, ultimately, not a good approach. They might eat their veggies, but they will most likely dislike vegetables in the long run, as the rewarding feeling of having sweets and food with high levels of fat is further reinforced with this method.
What about mixing in some sweet fruits with yogurt, or adding broccoli to a pasta dish they like? Serving them fried chicken with a side of celery might not be effective, as they will most definitely leave the vegetables uneaten. If they are really averse to eating vegetables, this could be a gold standard method for starters. Small exposures could add up over time.
As much as possible, do not skip meals and be consistent with eating schedules for your young ones. It also helps to limit time spent in front of the TV, as well as exposure to gadgets such as laptops and smartphones. Research shows that less TV-watching reduced body fat percentage. This way, they will not be encouraged to snack mindlessly, and to be more active.
This is a process that takes time, effort and consistency for positive results. It could require 5-10 exposures before they actually start liking to eat their greens and fruits. Parents should fight the instinct to push the healthy food options at all costs.