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How to Encourage Healthy Eating Habits

When it comes to feeding kids, many moms struggle to know how to encourage healthy eating habits because moms don’t have healthy eating habits themselves. Our culture is rife with different methodologies, diets, and ways of eating. So many differing theories makes it hard to know how to have a healthy relationship with food.

Take action to do what you can to improve your own relationship with food and your body so you can model healthy habits for your ever observant kids.

group of persons eating indoors

Be a Positive Role Model

If you have unhealthy eating habits, you cannot expect your kids to have good ones. Kids learn through observation and if your actions don’t line up with your words, they’ll take note. Learn how to prepare balanced meals, encourage playful exercise, model adequate hydration, and foster a body positivity.

Praise Character Qualities Over Appearance

One of the best things you can do for your kids is to neither make negative comments about your body size and shape, nor make negative comments about theirs.

Often, we praise others for how they look. Instead, praise your child and others for their character, kindness, or behavior. Their  external features are less important. Foster body positivity and confidence in who God has created them to be.

Framework for Feeding Kids

Ever been at a five-year-old’s birthday party where each mom has different rules about how much their child has to eat in order to have cake? One mom says, “You have to eat your entire hot dog,” while another says, “You have to take three bites of everything,” while yet another says, “Eat what you want.”

Sound familiar? It’s confusing for both parents and kids to know what to do when it comes to eating with many mixed messages. Renowned dietician Ellyn Satter encourages parents to remember their respective roles when it comes to feeding. A parents’ responsibility is to offer a wide variety of foods. The child’s responsibility is to eat. This division of responsibility eliminates power struggles, encourages independence, and fosters eating competence.

Talk to Your Kids About Food

As parents, we have the opportunity to teach our kids about food. Using language like “food for growing” and “food for fun” introduces concepts without labeling foods good or bad. By removing labels, kids are free to learn how to make good decisions about feeding themselves. For example, talk about how food offers our bodies fuel to operate just like gas gives a car what it needs to run. Say “If we filled our car up with kool-aid it probably wouldn’t run as well since we didn’t give it what it needs just like if we fill our tank up with food for fun our bodies won’t operate as well.”

Eat Family Meals

Another way to cultivate a healthy relationship with food is to have family meals. With busy schedules it is hard to find a time that everyone can eat together. However, research shows that regardless of what is served (it could even be fast food), children have better relationships with food and struggle less with their weight when their families ate together at least 3 times per week. You may be worried that you don’t have time to cook or aren’t a good cook, but family meals are more about the connection, the socialization, the fostering of family relationships than the food served.

Teach Hunger and Satiety

We are born with an intuitive mechanism that signals our brain regarding our hunger and satiety. Often times as we grow older we develop unhealthy habits that tamper with our ability to eat intuitively such as emotional eating, diets, restriction, overeating, or food as reward/punishment mindsets. Foster an environment for your kids to recognize their hunger, respond promptly and stop when they’re full. These are lifelong skills that will help empower and equip them to have a healthy relationship with food.

Know When to Ask for Help

If you find yourself in a situation where things have gone awry with your child’s relationship with food, don’t blame yourself. Do seek professional help. For more information about warning signs, how to get help, and how to help your child with disordered eating, read this post by Jennifer Smith Lane.

Along with teaching them how to floss their teeth and keep fingers out of their nostrils or anyone else’s, I wanted my children to have a taste for healthy foods. Several habits we adopted early included introducing vegetables as baby’s first foods, drinking water with meals, and spending the grocery budget on whole foods as close to their natural state as possible. Staples are rice, beans, meats, dairy, fruits, and vegetables. For between meal munchies, the children have carte blanche permission to reach for vegetables and fruits.

Most recipes were well received except for the lasagna that included layers of zucchini. My son suspiciously eyed the casserole dish. “What’s for dessert?” He wanted to know if that night’s dessert was worth eating the zucchini-infused dinner.

Beloved Recipes From PeggySue’s Kitchen

We’re far from purists and happily enjoy chips, and the occasional fast food when traveling and with friends, as well as boxed sugary cereal for birthday breakfast. Menus include cakes, pies, and cookies made with real and wholesome ingredients. Our eating mostly resembles the 80/20 rule: 80 percent healthy and 20 percent not-so-much.

The rewards are adult children who are active and fit, and frequently call home to ask, “Hey Mom, what’s the recipe for that orange oatmeal pie we ate for breakfast when we were kids? And the hot fudge sauce you served over fruit?”

Orange Oatmeal Pie

  • 9 eggs
  • 2-1/4 cups milk
  • 12 oz. concentrated orange juice straight from the can. Do not add water.
  • 1-1/2 cups oatmeal, uncooked
  • ¾ cup brown sugar

Mix ingredients together. Pour into greased 9 x 12 casserole dish. Bake 375 degrees for 40 minutes.

Best Hot Fudge Sauce on the Planet

  • 12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ½ cup milk

Place ingredients in a glass bowl. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Stir until well blended. Drizzle over fruit and ice cream.

Sweetheart Cornbread

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tbls. baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream or yogurt
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 can (8 ounces) cream-style corn
  • 1- 1/2 cups cornmeal

In a large bowl, beat eggs. Add honey, baking powder, sour cream, oil, and corn. Mix well. Stir in cornmeal until just combined. Pour into a greased 9-inch round pan. Bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until bread tests done.

Mary Ann’s Comforting Chocolate Chip Scones

  • (you can also add other ingredients including pecans, orange rind, etc.)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tbls. baking powder
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tbls. sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk or yogurt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Beat butter on high until creamy. Add sugar, beat 5 minutes till fluffy. Then, add eggs one at a time. Add flour and baking powder. Add buttermilk and mix only until blended. Fold in chocolate chips. Scoop 1/3 cupfuls of dough onto cookie sheet. Cover the cookie sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate 45 minutes (this gives the scones that crunchy top) or freeze and when hard place in a plastic bag for baking later). Heat oven to 350 degrees, bake scones 15 minutes. Turn oven to 325 degrees for 13 minutes until golden.

Resources for Healthy Eating:

Two of PeggySue’s daughters are professional writers like their mom. Three of her children are allergic to reading. Find out about books by PeggySue Wells at www.PeggySueWellsdoesntwritelikeagirl.com

Love and Care for the One and Only You by Michelle Medlock Adams

The Gift of Bread: Recipes for the Heart and Table by Karen Whiting

Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter

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Meet PeggySue

We’ve heard of soccer moms and stage mothers. I’m a writer who trailers my kids and horses across the nation. My Apple computer, fondly christened MacBeth, is the essential I bring along.