Lead your family by example and start making healthy choices at mealtime.

Parents should always remember that healthy living for you and your family is a marathon, not a sprint. The key to being successful is having patience. Don’t stress if you or your children are not meeting the expectations you created. That added stress can not only affect your health, but it can also create a stressful environment that makes it harder for your children to be excited about healthy living.

Creating healthy habits is a growing process that eventually turns into a way of life. The other key component is to remember that YOU are the role model. The same things we ask our kids to do we need to model ourselves. With that in mind, here are some helpful tips to get your family started in the right direction.

Talk about food as fuel for their bodies

This comparison can really help kids understand that what they put into their bodies is important and affects how they feel. Your body feels good when it is getting healthy food as fuel. Unhealthy foods like desserts and candy are OK sometimes, but they don’t fuel the body. These foods can actually make the body feel worse. Talk about and model snacks as fuel; try not to equate snack foods with treats. Examples of healthy snack food are: fruit, veggies, popcorn, nuts, whole-grain crackers and low-fat yogurt. Examples of treats include: cookies, ice cream and soda.


Let your kids help you grocery shop and make choices

Being part of the meal preparation process gives kids an overall greater respect for food, and when they have buy-in they are more likely to give new foods a try. Let them help you prepare and cook meals, create a small garden in your yard for herbs and vegetables, and let them help you decide how to set the table.

Exposure is important

It takes the average child 12-14 times of being exposed to a new food before they want to try it; don’t give up. Encourage your kids to try foods again, even if they’ve tried it before. Courtesy bites are encouraged. Talk to them about how their taste buds grow and change over time. Also, try different preparation and cooking techniques with the same food. Your child may not care for boiled Brussels sprouts, but they may like roasted Brussels sprouts with lemon.

Forget the clean plate club

Encourage your children to eat until they have full tummies, not clean their plates even though they are already full. Children do a better job than adults at listening to their body’s signals, yet 85% of all parents try to get their kids to eat more even when they are full.

Make eating fun

This really can change your family’s outlook on healthy eating. Be creative and figure out ways to interact with your kids at dinnertime. Be sure to eat together as a family. Play fun games that not only get your kids talking, but create learning opportunities as well. Try Table Topics: slips of paper in a bowl on the table that have conversation starters and questions written on them. Fun, even nonsensical, topics can be mixed in with nutrition and health questions so kids learn tips for a lifetime.

Earn achievements

One of the reasons why video games are so entertaining for kids is because they can earn achievements or badges based on how they succeed in the game. Incorporate this into their healthy lifestyle, where your children can earn special achievements or privileges based on how many new healthy foods or physical activities they try.

Any of these methods can help shape and mold you and your family’s healthy lifestyle for many years. You know your kids better than anyone else, so take the initiative and appeal to what motivates them. Small changes will lead to big results with a little time, patience and creativity.

Wesley Delbridge, R.D., is the Food & Nutrition Director for the Chandler Unified School District, and is also a media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. Delbridge designed and created the first school nutrition smart phone app, CUSD Food, and is committed to changing the perception of school meals. Follow Delbridge on Twitter @wesleydelbridgeRD.