As a parent, you have been controlling what your child eats since birth. But at some point, your child will start deciding what and how much they’ll be eating on their own. Teaching children about healthy eating can seem like a difficult task. You want to use terms that they can understand, but also need to give them enough information so they’re aware of healthy eating habits as they grow older. Here are four conversations to have with your child about healthy eating and how food positively affects our bodies:
1. Avoid calling foods “good” or “bad”.
Children need food to fuel their bodies so that they can grow and have energy for the day, so all foods have a place in their diet. It’s better to explain that some foods are better than others and there are certain foods that they should eat less of. It will help to clarify that there are foods they should have every day (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and skim milk), and there are foods with less nutrition (fried foods, sweets, and chips) that they should limit and think twice about before eating.
2. Show them what eating right looks like.
The USDA switched from MyPyramid to MyPlate to show children what their plate should look like when they’re eating. Explain to your children that at every meal, half of their plate should be fruits or vegetables, and that these foods have important nutrients to help their bodies grow. The other half of the plate should include a whole grain and a lean protein. Feel free to show them the MyPlate posters to give a visual. The best way to teach them this is to lead by example. Model what a healthy plate should look like, and teach them to replicate your plate.
3. Don’t forget to talk about portion sizes.
It’s not just what your child is eating, but also how much they are eating. In the United States, portion sizes have continued to increase. Use visuals to explain proper portion sizes. Show them that rice and pasta portion sizes should be about half a baseball, protein should be the size of a deck of cards, and fats like butter or mayonnaise should be the size of a postage stamp. As they get older, show them the nutrition facts and serving size information on food packaging.
4. Limit sweets and fast foods.
Many children love candy, soda and fast food. In fact, not many people (adults included) would turn them down! These foods served every now and then are fine as a treat, but it’s important to explain to your children that they should only be eaten in moderation. Try not to just say “no” when they ask for fast food or candy for dinner, but rather explain why you’ve said no. You might also want to try offering your child fruit or another healthy recipe as a replacement for sweets.