As a Health and Wellness Educator, I often have conversations with visitors about food choice. When we talk about eating healthy, it’s almost always about eating a lot of veggies and fruits, drinking water and some milk, and having a balanced meal with enough nutrition.
When I use our Sugar Detective kit with visitors and ask children what kind of cereal they like to eat, a lot of children point at the sugary ones. Then, I see a nervous smile from the grownups saying, “We only buy this once in a while as a special treat.”
Conversations about healthy eating sometimes make people feel guilty. We know that most children do like candies. And yes, we all sometimes eat junk food. We talk about healthy food choice knowing that it’s not necessarily what happens every day in every single meal we have. Being healthy does not mean being perfect and eating only fruits and vegetables. Healthy lifestyles can be led by balancing and allowing some room for foods that may not generally be considered healthy. Here are some ideas that may help you find it easier to develop healthy eating habits:
Think of what to eat, instead of what not to eat
Healthy eating is about getting enough nutrients. Examples of nutrition-rich foods are colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains and dairy products. As long as you make sure to get plenty of nutrition and appropriate calories, eating one cookie is not going to negatively impact your health. If you keep moderation in mind, even sugar and fat can fit into a healthful diet. So, instead of thinking of particular types of foods as good or bad, which often makes you feel guilty about what you eat, try to think of how to balance your food.
Set reachable goals
Changing your habits is tough, and eating should be about being good to yourself, not about pushing yourself into something unpleasant. If you feel that your eating habits are not healthy enough, you can start with something small and doable. For example, adding a fruit in the morning might be a good option for you; or maybe you can try to have 3 different vegetables per day. Once you get used to the new routine, add another healthy food choice to your meal that you think is reachable. Keep adding new routines until you think you are maintaining healthy eating habits.
Shop, cook, and eat to foster healthy body and mind
Eating with other people can help you eat more slowly, which helps you with better digestion. Have your child pick some healthy food and cook together! Even toddlers can help with ripping some lettuce and putting together a bowl of salad. Family meal time is a great opportunity to ask your child what happened that day. You will get to know your child’s school and friends more, which will also help you catch any potential issues earlier. Family meal time does not have to be at dinner time. It can be breakfast if it’s more convenient. It also does not have to be a daily obligation, but try to sit together as many days as possible even for a short period of time.
Learning about healthy eating helps you choose and balance food more wisely. It is not about “no sugar, no fat.” So, if you see me with mini-cereal boxes or any other nutrition activities, come stop by and we will have a good time together!
By Saki Iwamoto, courtesy of Boston Children’s Museum