Andrea Ayala

Andrea Ayala

Parents and children alike have been counting down the days until summer break, and now that it’s finally here, it’s important to make the most of the time when kids are away from school.

Summer break is a great time to encourage children to form healthy habits by getting them involved and getting creative with meals and snacks. It is common for young children to be picky eaters, which can make this a challenging endeavor. However, as a former picky eater, I can tell you it is not impossible to break those habits and encourage new, healthy choices.

A common approach to getting kids to eat their fruits and veggies is to sneak the food into a recipe so they don’t realize they’re eating it. While this works temporarily to get a good serving of a fruit or vegetable in, parents may still face the challenge of getting the child to consciously choose to eat it later on.

A different approach would be to get kids involved in planning meals, grocery shopping and even helping with preparing food. Children often get excited when they’ve played a role in selecting or preparing foods, which may get them excited about trying new foods as well.

Give children the option to choose something familiar as well as something new to encourage healthy behaviors. Bringing kids to the grocery store can often be more of a hassle than going alone, so aim to pick a day when there is no time crunch and no one is hungry. Many kids enjoy feeling as though they are helping out and might like holding the grocery list or grabbing items off the shelf. Small actions like these are great ways to motivate children to feel excited about their food.

Young children easily pick up on what they observe, especially at home. Therefore, healthy eating behaviors start at home with parents that demonstrate similar habits. If a child sees a parent constantly snacking on non-nutritive foods, such as cookies or chips, they are less likely to ask for fruits and vegetables for snacks and at meals.

While the occasional serving of these snacks isn’t harmful, the focus should be on encouraging children to ask for nutritious snacks. Keep a variety of fruits and vegetables available and enjoy them as snacks alongside your child; you both may benefit from making healthy choices.

Keeping kids busy and active during summer break can be challenging but incorporating ways to form healthy eating habits is easier than some may think.

While it may seem better to keep them distracted while trying to quickly make a meal or run errands at the store, they may be able to actually help you accomplish these tasks while learning to try new foods and make nutritious choices.

Make the most of this summer and start forming healthy habits.

Andrea Ayala is a dietitian with DeTar Healthcare System.

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