We have the power to influence young children to make healthy food choices. Children develop their behaviors and habits from observing ours. If you’re like a majority of Americans, your eating habits could probably use a little polishing. Many of us know what good eating habits are, but sometimes eating healthy can be difficult to maintain in our busy lives.
If changing your eating habits seems insurmountable, try making changes gradually. Just as there are no easy answers to a healthy diet, don’t expect to totally revamp your eating habits overnight. In fact, changing too much, too fast can get in the way of success.
Start out by making a list of your poor habits and set a goal for a healthy one. Select one habit at a time to work on, and pick the one you think will be the easiest to start with. Set your goal and develop an approach to making modest changes that add up to achieving your goal. Here are a few examples that may help explain this approach:
Goal 1: Build a healthier plate
Eating a healthy meal includes vegetables, fruits, proteins, whole grains and calcium-rich dairy (or non-dairy foods). For one week, take note of how many food groups are represented on your plate at each meal. Over the next 2-3 weeks, slowly begin to add the missing food groups, while reducing the over-represented food groups on your plate.
Here is a simple tip: When you sit down for a meal, draw two imaginary lines through the center of your plate to divide it into four parts.
- Fill one of the four sections with grains or starchy foods such as rice, pasta, potatoes, bread, or corn.
- Fill another section with protein — foods like meat, fish, poultry, or tofu.
- Fill the remaining two sections (half of the plate) with vegetables and fruits like broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, tomatoes, bananas, oranges and apples or other vegetables and fruits your kids will love. Encourage your children to try new flavors and foods by creating different salad bar themes at home.
- Add a small glass of non-fat milk (or calcium-fortified non-dairy milk, such as organic soy)
Goal 2: Eliminate soda and sugary drinks
Approach: Count the number of sodas you have in a day. Set a goal, for example, that in five days, you will reduce that number by half. Keep track of your progress. Over the next five days, cut the number in half again, and in a few weeks, you will be down to nearly none. Tell yourself you can have a soda when you go out to eat, as long as you don’t go out to eat too often.
Goal 3: Eat slowly at meals
Approach: For three days, write your start and stop time for meals. Identify the meals that you eat the fastest and ones where you can find a little more time to eat. Start out by adding two to three minutes to each of these meals. Work up to 10-15 minutes over time. Plan a topic of conversation, or a series of questions that stimulate conversation to fill the time between chewing. Put your fork down between bites, food, and drink a glass of water with your meal. Before you know it, you’ll enjoy a nice slow meal and good conversation with your family.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many goals we can set for ourselves, but if your goals are too lofty, you’ll stop striving to reach them. Take baby steps to be a good role model for your babies, and in no time, you and your family will be on a steady trek down the path to healthful living.
What are some of your goals for healthier eating?