Taking Candy from a Baby: 5 Tips to Raise Healthy Eaters
When my first daughter was 18 months old and wanted a snack, it was crackers, maybe some fruit, or a cheese stick. Now, when my 18-month-old daughter, my third child, wants a snack, and I offer her crackers, fruit, or a cheese stick, I hear “Nooooo!” as she proceeds to point up to the cupboard where the sweet stuff is hidden away. Ahhh! My first child didn't even know what candy was at 18 months, and here's my third child demanding it! And, I'm not going to lie, depending on the craziness of my day, and the amount of patience I have left in the tank, I will probably give in and pop a marshmallow in her mouth to avoid a tantrum. Thus, making her sweets addiction just that much stronger!
But it's not just at home. Do you ever notice how much people love giving kids candy? The teller at the bank gives lollipops, the checker at the grocery store has chocolates, and don't even get me started on what the nice old lady in the pew behind us at church has for my kids for being “so well behaved.” While my first child didn't know what chocolate was until she was 3 or 4, my third child knows that she prefers Dove over Hershey's!
I've tried hard to strike a balance with sweets. I didn't want to totally restrict my children and make them feel deprived, especially when their peers are partaking in front of them, but I also want to teach them to make healthy choices and keep a balance.
The balance is nothing new. Childhood obesity has been given a very public platform with the First Lady's “Let's Move” initiative. She's even partnered with Sesame Street to help kids make healthier food choices. But the pendulum can swing too far in the other direction. There is even a bit of an uproar right now over a doll called “Nenuco Won't Eat“—a doll that turns its head away when you try to feed it. Some experts complain that this encourages children to shun foods and normalizes anorexic behaviors.
Moderation and balance seem to be the one thing that is constant in parenting, so here are a few things that experts suggest can help you to teach your children healthy eating habits from the time they are new eaters! While I don't have all the answers and find myself always adapting and working towards this balance, here are 5 things I strive to do to raise healthy eaters:
1. Set consistent meal times and snack times
The recommendation for children's diets is three meals and three additional snacks per day. This boils down to something to eat every 2-3 hours during the day. Plan these meals and snacks to balance all food groups, which means sweets can be worked in to these meal/snack times in moderation. Parents who model this pattern for their children help them to create a healthy approach to eating.
2. Offer a variety of foods
Children who enjoy healthier food options are less likely to choose fats, salts, and sugars. Offering your children a variety of options that include fruits and vegetables will make them more likely to make these choices for themselves when offered. There are even some really cute and creative ways to offer fruits and vegetables to kids so they look a little more enticing.
3. Be a Food Role Model
Eat the way you want your kids to eat. If you're eating chips and candy, chances are they're going to be eating chips and candy. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn't work in many cases, and this is no different. If you want your children to make smart food choices, show them how! Consider having a garden and working together to harvest your own vegetables. Take your children grocery shopping with you and teach them how to choose fruits and vegetables so they can begin to take ownership over their healthy eating. By modeling a lifestyle that incorporates making healthy food choices, you're setting them up for success.
4. Keep Meal Times Upbeat and Positive
Think about it: When your children are having fun with friends at a party, or at a family get-together, what foods are they associating with that fun? Soda? Pizza? Candy? Cake? Likely not the healthy options you have at home around the dinner table on a weeknight. How are mealtimes at your house when they are eating healthy foods? Are dinner conversations stressful and hurried? Are they smashed between homework and sports practice or music lessons? Try to make meal times fun. This way their associations with healthier foods are also positive! Consider having a jar of conversation starters if you're stuck in a communication rut.
5. Keep Active
Healthy lifestyle is a balance of a healthy diet and exercise. Weight gain comes from consuming more calories than your body can use/burn. The more active you are, the more your body can use the energy you put into it. Children thrive on activity
How do you feel about our society's tendency to reward with food? Is dinner time as crazy at your house as it is at mine? Do you feel your children are picky eaters? Tell us in the comments!