Encouraging kids to make healthy decisions
with advice from Anna Dark
and Angela Mader
If you’re a parent, this probably sounds familiar: You’ve worked to make a healthy meal for your son (or daughter), but he’d rather have a cereal bar. Or snack foods. Or nothing. So how do you encourage him to eat healthy food and make responsible choices when eating?
Nutrition and fitness expert Anna Dark encourages parents and caregivers to be patient and positive. She says, “The goal is to get them to adopt the healthier choices because it is GOOD for THEM and ultimately will form a good habit that will take them into their adulthood!” After earning her degree in nutrition, Anna became the Fitness Director at the Take Charge Fitness Program at Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality member in Clinton, Tennessee.
Anna recommends avoiding comparisons to other kids, or shaming them by saying they are “fat;” this is especially true for girls, who have plenty of societal pressure to look a certain way. Such negative reinforcement will only lead children to associate eating better with punishment, rather than health.
Use your child’s hero as a positive way to get a child to eat better or to become more active, suggests Anna. For example, she says, “If your child’s hero is an athlete like Kobe Bryant, you could say, ‘Did you know that Kobe Bryant eats raw vegetables so he can be fast?'”
Angela Mader, the creator of the fitbook™ (a Physiquality partner program), proposes using meal time as a way to discuss healthy choices and why some foods are better than others. “By creating recipes and meals together,” she says, “kids become a part of the process.” Children do tend to be cautious about new foods, so Anna recommends introducing new healthy foods slowly. Also, she adds, it’s okay to add something like ranch dressing to raw vegetables to make them more appealing.
Research has shown that parental involvement is key. When children see their parents making healthy choices by eating right and being active, they are more likely to do the same. Angela encourages families to be active together. This can be as simple as taking an evening walk together on a regular basis or playing a game of basketball in the driveway. If the kids are having fun, Anna notes, it doesn’t feel like a chore. Games like freeze tag, leap frog, hopscotch and even Twister encourage activity and strength without feeling like required organized activity.
If your child is goal-oriented, consider using a chart to reward healthy choices or setting goals together that lead to an agreed reward, like a dinner out together as a family. Angela points out that fitbook™ junior offers kids a way to set goals with their parents, both by the week and over a 3-month span. This can be a great way to help children take ownership of making healthier choices in their own lives.
For further reading, look through our selection of articles on children’s health, in addition to the below links:
National Institutes of Health. Shape your family’s habits. News in Health, February 2013.
Orenstein, Peggy. The fat trap. New York Times Magazine, April 12, 2010.