“It’s not a diet, it is called healthy eating” would work well as my moto. If people acquire a few basic healthy eating habits as kids, they will have so much less trouble keeping to these healthy habits later as adults.
Let’s be clear on my definition of healthy eating. For me it means being able to eat everything I wish and not exaggerating with anything.
I have always loved fresh produce. I have also very rarely over-eaten in my life. I believe it is very possibly related to the fact that when I was a kid I was used to eating fresh “real” food and having my parents (and not me, the child) decide on the amount & type of food served at meals.
We lived at the countryside for a while when I was a child and fresh produce was more readily available than processed food. Also, meat was expensive and we didn’t have very lavish means (although I was absolutely never left hungry!). What might have felt like restricted possibilities at the time was actually a great blessing to our eating habits. We didn’t have much choice but to eat healthy.😄
4 habits of healthy eating
These are healthy eating habits that I acquired at young age almost by accident and that I consciously try to teach to my own children.
1. Always prefer fresh seasonal produce
We ate all kinds of seasonal vegetables and fruits every day. When there was not much variety in choice of vegetables we varied the cooking methods. You can make so many different things out of one vegetable. There was a time we had an overload of pumpkins. For about one whole month we had almost only pumpkin-based things: herby mashed pumpkin, oven roasted pumpkin, pumpkin soup, sautéed pumpkin cubes, pumpkin blinis, pumpkin biscuits, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cake, pumpkin pudding. Did you know that you can make pumpkin meringue pie? Like the lemon meringue pie but with pumpkin filling? It is delicious by the way 😉
2. Eat less meat
We lived in the country but we were the only family in the village who didn’t have animals. We ate meat very rarely. There was no conscious effort behind this, it just happened like this. We had maybe once a week meat and once a week fish. The rest of the time we ate vegetarian meals. We did eat eggs and milk that were abundant from the farms nearby.
This part is a bit more complicated in France. There is a really profoundly ingrained culture of having some kind of meat at all big meals of the day (lunch and dinner). I try to have at least three vegetarian meals for the kids in one week. Or else I just minimize the amount of meat served in favor of vegetables or grains.
3. Don’t eat processed food
That is eat as little processed food as possible. There is absolutely no harm in getting the kids some candy or other processed treats from time to time or having a few store-bought meals in the freezer. Just have these be an exception in the day-to-day life. The thing is to not transform the processed foods into a kind of an inaccessible trophy either so that the kids wouldn’t overindulge when they finally get some.
4. Keep a strict eye on portion sizes
I try to not serve my kids oversized portions of anything (including fresh vegetables or fruit). It is basic logic that a small person doesn’t need as much food as a big person. Yes, toddlers need to grow, but their body is TWO TO THREE TIMES SMALLER than an adults. So do not put a huge loaded plate in front of the kids. Besides the unnecessary quantity of food, a too big plateful is actually overwhelming to them and can cause averse reactions like pickiness.
Having smaller portions in the beginning also leaves room for seconds if they wish. In our house there is a rule that you cannot have seconds of anything before the first plateful is (more or less) finished. This is the part where you get to encourage them to try new things without having to force them to eat a full plate at once. I often serve a tiny bit of new (or less appreciated) vegetables alongside some already known veggies and something I’m certain they like a lot. For example if the dinner consists of sausage, oven roasted fries, cauliflower and parsnip, they cannot get more fries or sausage before having at least tasted a few bites of cauliflower or parsnip.
Here is a table put together by The American Academy of Pediatrics that gives a good general idea of recommended portion sizes for different aged children.
So there you have it, the 4 habits to cultivate in the children are:
- prefer fresh produce,
- eat less meat,
- stay away from processed foods,
- keep portions reasonable.
There is no use over-stressing about the children’s eating, just keep in mind to give them (and yourself) the most natural foods possible and encourage them to enjoy the real tastes of nature. If everyone just followed common sense, there would be so much less eating-related struggles and problems.
Sources to check out:
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If you want more snacking inspiration, you can download my list of 30 Healthy Snack Ideas for Kids so that you never run out of healthy snacks to serve!
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Food culture in France & 10 Golden Rules for a Successful Meal
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