Good eating habits don’t happen by accident. In fact, when young children are left to choose food for themselves, the choices will always be high in sugar, fat or salt. Good eating habits must be taught from a young age if they are to stick when they’re teenagers.
All children will naturally become what we label as “picky eaters” if they are not taught otherwise. Don’t all young toddlers refuse veggies at some point? What will you do when your new eater attempts to do the same thing?
Setting ground rules for good eating is a necessity if you want your kids to develop healthy eating habits.
My husband and I decided early on–even before our kids were weaned from breast feeding–that there were certain habits we would encourage at the table and certain ones we wouldn’t. Many of these came from our parents before us, and some we added ourselves from personal conviction and experience.
Our Personal Good Eating Ground Rules
These are the ground rules that we set up with our own kids. Now that they are 13, 11, and 9, we very rarely have to remind them of these. Consequently, they enjoy eating and trying new things. (And since we love to travel abroad, these good eating habits are a blessing and not a struggle!)
1. “You have to try everything on your plate at least once before leaving the table.”
This was probably the very first rule we had to enforce with our kids…usually around age 2. We made our kids sit at the table until they tried a bite of anything new. There were a few times that I also made one of our kids sit at the table until they finished a certain part–like their veggies. This happened especially if I knew that they did not eat many other good options that day. Sitting alone at the table and not being able to play was a good enough consequence that they eventually did what they were told. They usually chose to comply pretty quickly.
2. “You only get seconds of something if you have finished everything else on your plate.”
There are usually very few exceptions on this one, especially if I know that everything on their plate is going to lead to a healthy, well-balanced meal.
3. “You only get to have dessert if you have finished all your dinner.”
Zero exceptions on this one. Sometimes my kids will now opt out of finishing their dinner, regardless. In those cases, I will often hold their unfinished dinner aside, just in case they get motivated once they see what dessert will be.
4. “If you try a bite and still choose not to eat, that’s fine. No different food options will be given later.”
This ground rule is really key. I know so many parents who make separate meals for their kids than themselves, and to me, this is just insanity. Please don’t make a healthy salad for yourself and allow your kids to eat crap! I had only one child go to bed hungry early on because they refused to finish their dinner. This didn’t happen often because our kids knew we were serious about it. Your kids will learn the same if you stick to your guns.
5. “No complaining or speaking badly about the food put in front of you.”
This ground rule got added to the first four as our kids have gotten older. You may have to add your own extras along the way. We value our kids being grateful for the food and for the one who took time to prepare it. The consequence for breaking this one? Usually they get sent away to their room for several minutes (which can really hurt when they’ve come to the table hungry for food and conversation). Again, they don’t end up breaking this one that often anymore.
What Will the Ground Rules Be For Your Family?
You’ll need to decide what the good eating rules will be in your home. If your kids are older, you may need to start small so that you can be consistent. But DO decide. Make a plan, and stick to it.
By setting rules for good eating, you are preparing your kids for a lifetime of healthy habits!