Getting a child to eat healthy is a daily challenge for many parents. In today’s on-the-go world, pediatric obesity is on the rise and one reason for that is due to poor nutritional habits.
There are 5 common mistakes parents make when it comes to nutrition, including using food as a reward, offering high-calorie drinks, enforcing the clean plate club, indulging in fast food and keeping too much junk food in the house. By recognizing these mistakes, parents can take steps to get their family back to better nutrition.
- Using Food as a Reward
Using food as a reward doesn’t work in the long run for the health of a child. Rewards just force children to eat more than they want to, just to get a sweet treat at the end of the meal.
Yet, many a parent has been down this road and once you head in that direction it is hard to turn around. “My daughter, Sarah, was often not eating her dinner so I started to use dessert as the reward,” says Gina Osher, mother of boy/girl twin from Los Angeles and blogger of www.thetwincoach.com. “I dangle the dessert over her, even though I know it is wrong. I have created a monster by this because I have used it so much that they both have come to expect dessert every night.”
When she tries to say “no,” she says her children don’t want to go to bed without having dessert. “More often than not, I’m serving dessert,” she says.
How can parents undo the “food as reward” mentality? Dieticians suggest unlinking the connection between the meal and dessert. Have the child eat dinner until they say they are full, and an hour or so later have a healthy snack time, noting that if the child is truly full he may even forget about the snack. If not, offer fruit or fruit smoothies, sugar-free Jell-O or other low-fat snacks.
- Serving High-Calorie Drinks
Giving children high-calorie drinks is a prescription for obesity. Fruit juices, sports drinks and chocolate milk drinks have high amounts of sugar and calories. Water is the ideal beverage choice because it hydrates and does not add extra calories. Instead of giving a child a fruit drink offer a piece of fruit or dilute the juice with water by one half.
Having a doctor teach a child about good nutrition sometimes works, according to Jeanie Ruban, mother of Sabrina, 3, and Jimmy, 1, from Mountainside, N.J. “At Sabrina’s 3-year-old appointment, the doctor said that she should only be drinking water and milk – no juice,” says Ruban. “From that day on, Sabrina has not had a sip of juice. Go figure! She used to love her diluted apple juice.”
- Joining the “Clean Plate Club”
If your child says he’s full, listen – don’t force him to eat. The “clean plate club” comes from the “waste not, want not” mentality of past generations.
It’s hard to break from the dinner table rules your parents enforced when you were kids. Many times when your child says he’s “full”, we think he’s just cleverly saving plenty of room for dessert.
So, if you think “full” is a power play for dessert, remind the child that “full” means he has no more room for anything, including dessert.
- Hitting the Drive-through
Many on-the-go parents hit the drive-through in between activities. However, what is saved in time is lost in nutritional value. Most fast foods are high in salt and calories. It’s best to put a strict limit on fast foods. Though many parents know of the ills of fast food, they still indulge and bring their kids along. If you’re going to go to a fast food restaurant, parents should make sure children eat from the kids’ menu and also choose healthy alternatives to high-fat burgers and fries. Also, families should limit their fast food trips to once or twice a month.
In addition, try planning meals by the week before going grocery shopping. Plan to cook double of a given meal such as chili and freeze the second half to be eaten later. Sandwiches and salads with colorful vegetables and chicken or ground turkey (for protein) can make quick meals and an alternative to fast food fare.
And look out for quick, frozen meals, which might be fast but not necessarily healthy. Keep in mind that many microwaveable dinners are high in sodium. Check the nutritional content for high calories, fat and sodium before buying them.
- Too Much Junk Food in the House
Stocking up on sweet and salty treats and placing them in your pantry increases the temptation to eat junk food. If it’s there, it’s a temptation. If it’s not there, they can eat other healthy foods.
Consider buying fresh fruits and vegetables once a week, clean and cut up, and keep them ready for snacking. Buy fresh vegetable party trays at warehouse stores and keeps them in the refrigerator for easy, anytime snacking.
Keeping too much junk food around the house is a double temptation, not just for kids, but for the parents who dole out the snacks. Too often we found ourselves giving one snack to your children and then one to yourself. It’s much easier for both stay healthy by keeping a bowl of fruit out for convenient self-serve snacking.
Junk food temptation doesn’t just live at home. Many parents are finding that schools (even preschools) provide an abundance of temptations.
“It seems like the remainders of every holiday and birthday party goody bag keep a constant flow of junk food in the house,” says Rochelle Nataloni Murphy, mother of Rachel, 8, from Sewell, N.J. “Also, I have no control over the fact that teachers use candy as a reward at school, and birthdays are celebrated often more than once a week at school with cupcakes, cookies and Munchkins [doughnuts].”
It is suggested for parents to offer children some of the treat and then place it out of sight and reach. Then discard it after the child has forgotten about it or time has passed. Everything in moderation still applies. Children shouldn’t be denied any food because it only will make them want it more. Instead, consider size. For example, buy single serving bags of chips or Hershey kisses instead of Hershey bars. That should be enough to satisfy them.