During summer vacation, it’s only natural for families to take a break from the routine and adopt more flexible and relaxed schedules. Still, it is important to maintain consistency when it comes to meals to ensure good eating habits aren’t forgotten. This will go a long way in ensuring a positive back-to-school transition for parents and children.
Raising kids who know how to choose healthy foods is easier if parents seize opportunities to introduce healthy eating habits and lessons. And the summer break is a great opportunity to achieve this. Below we share successful strategies for educating children on the importance of healthy nutrition.
1. Keep a meal schedule
Rest and a loose agenda might be two things kids associate with summer, but don’t compromise on maintaining a fixed meal schedule. Pediatrician and dietitian Diane Schnee of Cleveland Clinic Children's argues that by always eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, children eat balanced meals and avoid satisfying hunger with unhealthy snacks that are high in calories and sugar.
Try gradually adjusting your mealtimes as the summer break draws to a close, to align with the upcoming school routine. This way, you can match the children's appetite cycle with the schedule they will follow once school starts again.
2. Set the example
Rather than emphasizing the importance of healthy food choices in every conversation, try to always lead by example. Melinda Sothern, co-author of Trim Kids and director of the Childhood Obesity Prevention Program at Louisiana State University, recommends that parents snack on fruits and veggies in front of their children when hunger strikes. By doing so, children will witness the healthy way of eating at home.
3. Do away with labels
Labeling foods as “good” and “bad” is a risky practice that nutritionists link to the development of eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia in adolescents. A healthy approach is to teach children to distinguish the properties that different foods have and the effects that consuming them can have on their bodies. For example, parents can talk to their children about how the antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables can lead to shinier and healthier looking hair, that calcium in milk strengthens the bones or a good breakfast helps the brain to not get distracted and finish tasks quickly. When it comes to unhealthy foods, the dialogue can focus on helping children recognize how their bodies feel after consuming them: hyperactive, fidgety or tired.
4. Let them choose what to eat
When children participate in the process of choosing their meals, they develop a natural interest that helps parents introduce new foods with less pushback. During summer, when free time is more abundant, parents can plan the menu and buy groceries with their children. Upon returning home, it will be easier to motivate them to stay in the kitchen and help prepare their own dish. Once at the table, parents can invite their children to rate each food on their plate and congratulate them on their good choice when preparing meals.
5. Combine new foods with familiar ones
Preparing new recipes can be an easy tradition to practice on long summer days. For parents, the important thing here is to focus on introducing that new food rather than getting your child to eat it with pleasure for the first time. Children are more open to trying and accepting new foods if they are presented in the company of familiar foods. Even if they don't eat it at all, parents can make it a rule to give it try before declining to eat it. Seeing on the plate is the first step towards eventually accepting it.
6. Celebrate mealtime together
One of the crucial moments to encourage healthy eating in children is mealtime. Outside the home, opportunities for children to stray from healthy nutrition abound. At home, parents have the best opportunity to cultivate healthy eating habits. During summer break, it’s easier to spend time eating together without the rush of the school year. Take advantage of the flexibility of schedules to sit at the table with your child and eat better together.