Sometimes this can feel like a daunting task but boiling it down to basics can make it easier. And while it may feel challenging today to take the time required to provide a nutritious lifestyle for a child, it is possible to build a sustainable and satisfying eating lifestyle that they take with them into their teenage and adulthoods!
First key is that kids eat what is convenient. Therefore, what your child has available, they will eat. If it comes down to having to go outside to pick an apple off a tree or eating a bag of chips in the cabinet next to them, guess which the child will choose? So the first key is to ensure that your household has the kinds of foods you wish your child to eat. If you want them to eat fresh fruits and vegetables then have those in your house and do not have a house full of chips, fruit snacks, chips, crackers, ice cream, ice pops, pop tarts, pizza rolls and so on.
Secondly, kids beings will eat what makes them feel good in the moment. Food has the ability to affect the dopamine neurotransmitter system in the brain, meaning that foods can actually create a short term feeling of “good” when in the long term, the food may not be good.
For example, food high in sugar, salt, fat and carbohydrates can cause this system to release feel good hormones which makes us want to have those foods again and again. Unfortunately, those foods can come with negative impacts to our health when eaten regularly and/or in high quantities including obesity, heart disease and so on. Circling back to our first concept, limiting foods high in non-nutrient dense fat and sugar is the next step to helping your child build sustainable eating habits. This might mean making homemade chicken nuggets instead of buying fast food chicken nuggets so you can control the ingredients and make them chemical free.
Thirdly, when a child is hungry, being prepared is the key to success. There are some children who cannot tolerate large meals and are more of a grazer style eater. So ensure you have smaller meals for them to graze on throughout a day without them eating snacks that are void of nutrients. And for your big meal eaters, make sure that their plates are relatively balanced with protein, carbohydrates and fats (although good luck with teenage boys that are growing!). Consider meal prepping, having emergency food items in your car and so forth so that you can provide healthy options no matter what the situation.
Fourthly, children will learn what food is and is not from you, their parent. If they see you eating food-like products (processed food out of boxes and bags) and not food (fruits, vegetables and other foods in their most raw form) they will not learn how to make food choices either. So be the example of what you want your children to be!
And lastly, have fun with food! There is so much fun to be had with food! Educate yourself. Learn new recipes. Have a weekly family meal night. Download an app that the kids can pick the weekly meals and it generates your shopping list for you each week. Make it fun! Teach the kids how to cook, get them invested in the food choices as well as the food preparation. The more ownership they take of their food the more they will be invested in making good decisions.