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Healthy Eating Habits for Kids

21 March 2022

If there’s any group of people for whom healthy eating is specifically essential, its kids! And our habits dictate what, when and how much we eat. These habit which we cultivate early on last a lifetime. Have you found yourself gravitating towards or craving for your mom’s dal-chawal when you are feeling low and sick? Why does that happen – because a part of your subconscious has created this comfort zone and associated ‘love and care’ with the ‘flavours and fragrances’ of your mom’s dal chawal. 

Now a similar thing happens let’s say when we as parents create a reward culture around junk food – ordering in pizza is the child scores low on his/her exam. Guess what – this kid grows up, has a bad day at work, and what does he/she eats for dinner that night…Pizza!

The importance of inculcating good eating habits go above and beyond their healthy growth into developing the child’s relationship with food. As parents, we can play a very important part in ensuring that children have a healthy relationship with food and grow into self-sustained adults that can take ownership of their own health, and even pass on these healthy habits to coming generations.

And even research proves that eating healthy at a young age adapts the palate to choosing healthy foods later in life. Psychology Today states that – “even if healthy food is available, college-age students will revert to eating junk foods from their childhood when they are feeling stressed.”

What does an unhealthy relationship with food look like?

Human beings don’t just eat for calories! Our food relationships define our connection with food, and our experiences with food in our childhood shape the way we think and feel about food. Eating when you are not hungry to deal with negative emotions, bingeing on certain foods leading to guilt and shame are some of the most common signs of an unhealthy relationship with food.

Here’s some effective ways of developing healthy eating habits in children

  1. Never use food as a reward or for punishing your children – this is one thing that most parents end up doing subconsciously and hence we all must make conscious effort to never withhold the child’s regular foods to punish them because it leads to bingeing and overeating disorders among children, whenever they get a chance to eat their favourite foods. The other way around also holds true – treating kids with chocolates and junk food makes their brains think that these foods are much better and valuable.
  2. Have a dedicated place and time for the entire family to eat – try your best that the entire family eats together and have a dedicated place in the house, either the dining table or a setup on the floor away from television and other electronic gadgets, to eat all your meals. What it will really do is develop a biological clock in kids and they will subconsciously know that it is not ok to eat anytime anywhere. Secondly and most importantly, it builds in mindfulness amongst children towards their food from very early on in life, which is something every adult is struggling with. Those who grew up or are still sitting on the sofa in front of the TV with food in their laps are having a tough time taking care of their health because they don’t even have an awareness of their true appetite, whether they are even hungry and how much their body is asking for. Everything starts going down once we lose our most basic sense of awareness of our bodies.
  3. Let your child make his/her own plate – Once children are 4-5 years of age parents must really encourage them to choose from the meal laid out on the dining table and help them make their own plate. This allows them to tap into the natural instincts, that all of us as are born with but forget over time due to so much conditioning, of choosing real food that their bodies need. If you find that this isn’t going as planned and you’d like to choose more healthy then teach them about nutrition..the approach should be educational not instructional.
  4. Help your child manage Proportions not Portions – I see a lot of parents pointing out the amount of food their growing kids fill their plate with. If they are leaving food, then of course it makes sense to educate them about food wastage, but if they are finishing it then it’s absolutely not ok to ask your child to eat less. They will only start hiding and lying about unhealthy snacks that they eat behind your back. Instead, make sure your child is learning to balance their meals right by eating adequate proportions of vegetables and proteins. 
  5. Involve children in the kitchen – I have never understood mothers’ obsession with keeping their children away from the kitchen! Ok, maybe I do, a big reason being they want their kids to dedicate all their time to flourish at academics, sports etc. , especially their daughters, and do better at life than they did for themselves. I get that, but we need to look at food and health as a basic life skill, irrespective of gender. A lot of us have house help and leaving the kitchens is one of the prime reasons of declining health of our generation. Let’s reclaim our role in the kitchens and know about the food that we put in our systems, teach children where ingredients come from, help build a sense of ownership in them, even if it is just for the weekends.
  6. Play with colours – Children are very physical beings, they need stimulation of the senses to really enjoy something. And the great thing about food is that colours also equal to more anti-oxidants, vitamins and essential nutrients. Get your kids excited about eating a rainbow. It will not just be educational but also develop this habit for them for life.
  7. Plan and prep with your child – If you don’t know what you are going to eat for your next meal chances are you will end up choosing the quickest, easiest and often an unhealthy or less nutritious option to eat. Make your child feel like they have a say and control in what they eat by discussing a general meal plan with them for the next couple of days, and especially prep for snacks which are the easiest to mess up with sugary and processed foods.

In the end, trust your most core parental instincts and don’t complicate it. We are all doing our bit to raise healthy, independent and responsible citizens of this society. Just trust yourself and remember, love can do a lot more than any science or tips-and-tricks can.

Happy Parenting!


Karnica Singh Nandal

Integrative Nutrition Health Coach & Yoga Instructor
Institute for Integrative Nutrition, NY
The Yoga Institute, 500hr TTC, Mumbai
Your cliché Engineer with an MBA degree, a corporate professional turned wellness enthusiast – I empower people to take responsibility for their own health and achievement of their personal wellness goals by educating, motivating, inspiring, and guiding towards long lasting lifestyle changes. 

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