Modern nutritional science validates the great importance of eating a plant-based, whole foods, natural, minimally processed diet. A lot of Westerners suffer from diseases and health problems that are related to eating industrialized diets. Much of the food we eat is overly processed and lacks nutritional value.
Our food preferences are culturally determined and start very early in life -- perhaps as early as in the womb of our mothers! Even though our food choices may be initially determined by the culture we happen to be born into, taste buds are adaptable and preferences can be changed. Nonetheless, one of the best things we can do as parents is to help our children establish healthy eating habits from a young age.
Here are some tips I have discovered to encourage my three-year-old to eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables:
- Gardening: As soon as my son could walk, he was out in the garden with me learning about where our food comes from. From an early age he was able to harvest and immediately eat fresh vegetables and fruits like lettuce, tomatoes, blackberries and figs. Want to plant a garden with your kids? Check out these fun themes for inspiration!
- Urban/forest foraging: Not everyone has access to a garden space, but in many urban and natural spaces fruit trees like plums, oranges, lemons and apples are prevalent. Where I live, blackberry bushes grow like weeds in many parts, and herbs like rosemary, bay and mint are easy to spot. Children find it exciting and delightful to discover berry patches or plum trees on the trail or when walking around the neighborhood!
- Involve children in food preparation: Have your child help you in the kitchen as early as possible. My son will put chopped vegetables in a bowl for me, or put fruit in the blender for smoothies. I was surprised to see my son eat several raw, diced radishes as he was helping me in the kitchen one evening.
- Set the example: Children do what we do as adults. Perhaps one of the best ways to get your little one to eat healthier is to eat healthier yourself. Always have a lot of fruit, vegetables, and other unprocessed snacks to offer your child and avoid eating a lot of junk food around your little one. Children love to dip things, so alongside some chopped cucumbers and carrots have some hummus, mild salsa or guacamole.
- Offer a wide variety: Human beings are omnivorous eaters, meaning we can eat a wide selection and variety of foods. Being able to eat such a range of foods offers us a great opportunity to eat a diverse and varied diet. Many parents complain about their children being picky and highly selective when eating, but maybe parents could benefit their children’s diet by offering more food options to their little ones.
Eating habits are formed at a really young age and it is painful to hear about how childhood obesity and diabetes are on the rise in places like the United States. Parents are the first line of defense against these types of childhood health problems and it is our responsibility to ensure that our children develop healthy eating habits. Our health is our wealth, and our children are our future.