By Julia Moravcsik, PhD, author of Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food
Many parents are in a bind. They really want to feed their children healthy food, but their children refuse everything but junk food. Parents serve piles of vegetables next to the hot dogs and potato chips, and those same piles of vegetables end up in the garbage can.
Children, cute as they are, are the same as rats. Scientists have found that rats that are used to eating junk food will refuse to eat if they're given healthy food! They actually have to go through a withdrawal period before they start enjoying the taste of real food.
This makes sense in evolutionary terms. Starvation is a constant threat for wild animals. If an animal finds a cache of high-calorie, sweet, fatty food, it fills up on it. If it also ate low calorie vegetables during this time, it would not have room for the high calorie food.
Don't despair! You can wean your child off of junk food with these steps:
Before You Begin:
- Make a list of the relatively healthy foods that your child likes. Make sure they are no sweeter than fruit, and not extremely high in fat. These foods will sustain your child during the weaning period.
- Rid your house completely of junk food. Absolutely no sweets, chips, and other sweet or overly fatty foods. Your whole family needs to cooperate. Your child shouldn't even be able to see these foods, or see someone else eating them, or your child will start craving them.
- Buy foods that you want your child to learn to like, (e.g., fruits, vegetables, and whole grains).
- Make tasty dishes with the foods that you want your child to eat. Use ingredients that your child already likes (but are still healthy). For example, if you are trying to get your child to eat broccoli and she likes cheddar cheese, sprinkle cheddar cheese on the broccoli.
- Give your child only the healthy new foods, except for dinner. Dinner should consist of the relatively healthy foods that your child already likes.
- Give your child a new food every two or three days. If you give it to her too often, she will get tired of it. If you give it to her too infrequently, she won't learn to like it.
The evening meal of familiar foods prevents your child from getting too hungry. But, as a parent, you do need to stay strong if your child seems to be eating too little during this time. It won't hurt your child to eat a little less for a few weeks. Remember, the long term benefits are worth it!
Weeks 4 - 6:
- During these weeks, slowly replace the evening meals with new, healthy foods. At this point, your child has probably learned to like a few of the new foods.
- The whole family should be eating these same healthy foods. Eat together as a family in order to give your child role model examples.
Congratulations! Your child has taken the first steps to being a healthy eater!
From now on, sweets and junk food should be an occasional treat only. Each time she has junk food, she will probably regress for a day or two -- refusing to eat healthy food and whining for junk food.
You can make a bigger list of food that you want your son or daughter to like. For each food, make sure it's in a tasty recipe, and give it to your child a few times a week. It usually takes a month or two before your child likes a new food.
Would you like a simple, easy-to-follow program that will teach your child to love healthy food? See my new book Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food on amazon.com.
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