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Encouraging healthy habits in your family

Jul 04, 2021
By Ayah Sarhan – Certified Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) Instructor & Coach

'Parents are always keen on getting their children committed to a healthy lifestyle. As parents, we all want our children to be healthy and safe from any disease. To succeed you need to adopt an open, accepting, and positive attitude. Let's face it, not all children, especially teens, would simply be convinced by just telling or forcing.'

Living a healthy lifestyle is a rewarding choice. As parents, we all want our children to be healthy and safe from any disease. To succeed you need to adopt an open, accepting, and positive attitude. Let's face it, not all children, especially teens, would simply be convinced by just telling or forcing.

Children get convinced by what they see and like from people they love and trust. So as much as they love you, they can sense if you are faking how you feel about a certain type of food that you want them to eat. Some parents share how they hate certain food (e.g. meat or spinach) but because they know its benefits, they nag their children about eating it. Your children can see it and sense it, even if you are trying to show otherwise. Unfortunately, such actions make children lose trust in their parents.

So first and foremost, you need to make sure your relationship with them is built around mutual trust and respect. 

Children love it when they are involved in meal planning. This could be done on regular daily basis or weekly basis in case you are busy and prefer to plan for your week. 

Involve them and go shopping together, let them experience natural colors and smells (but make sure they are not hungry to avoid quick unhealthy snacking during shopping). 

Encourage them when they do eat healthy (instead of looking at what's not done, focus on what's done and accomplished). 

Prepare yourself for some rejection. I am a big food fan, yet I do remember certain food items that I hated as a child (but as I became an adult I have managed to cook it my own way).  So when they tell you they don’t like to eat something, just try to understand what exactly that they don't like: the look, the smell, the taste, the texture, etc.

According to your understanding ask them how they would like to have it. Or even better ask them if they would like to do it with you and take their suggestions into consideration.

Simplify recipes and cross out that the item that they don't like and replace it with another that they do like. For instance, if you are serving chicken with mushrooms, you know that they don't like mushrooms, then take it out (maybe have it on its own as a side dish) and serve chicken. You can then make an egg plant salad to provide them with the nutrients they are missing from not eating the mushrooms. 

I remember when I started juicing and my little daughter was having fun helping me out, she decided to put in parsley. I thought to myself "This is going in the sink" (even though I like to eat parsley, I never imagined I would drink it). Surprisingly, it was delicious and now I put parsley in all my juices and hers too! 

If they still don't like it, drop it for a while and try again later. 

Another tactic that is really effective is eating it yourself and talking about how well you feel when you do. Also, engage in an interesting conversation when you are both in the mood for it. Gently explain your view of a healthy lifestyle and its impact on one's life, performance, and happiness. 

A supportive environment is an important factor in encouraging healthy habits. You can help them by cleaning your cabins and reducing unhealthy or tempting items to a minimum, or making it inaccessible to them. Willpower is weak especially at night or when they return from school, and during exams so I don't recommend that you depend on it. Make healthy items more accessible and available using attractive boxes and plates. 

Young children and teens are influenced by their peers so allow for some indulgence during gatherings. 

Look for stories about celebrities or their favorite characters who are adopting a healthy lifestyle, and share it with them verbally or on social media. 

Any change in food or any other life style habits requires adjustment to taste buds and brain signals, so make it gradual and give it time. Always remember that the journey is as important as the destination.  Any pressure may turn them off forever, so be open and flexible about it. They may be closer to changing their habits than you think.

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