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Encouraging Healthy Eating With Older Kids

By Sheri Wohlfert | Photo by Getty Images/iStockphoto/samael334 | December 2021

Encouraging Healthy Eating With Older Kids

Last month we offered some tips for the mealtime battle arena. We’d like to offer a few more helpful ideas for peaceful mealtimes, especially for older eaters.

It’s not about the carrots!

Often it isn’t about the food at all. It's an attempt to have control of something. Struggles with eating are often about emotions that have nothing to do with what’s on the plate. Patiently get to the bottom of things and separate the applesauce from the tiredness, frustration or whatever else might be going on in your child’s life.

Food is fuel, not a reward!

It’s all about balance. Help your children focus on eating a variety of healthy foods to fuel their body and help them grow strong and stay healthy. Vegetables aren’t the enemy that must be conquered before the sugary surprise at the end. This can send a message that the food on their plate is somehow not as valuable or important as the dessert.

Don’t set up camps!

Not only are we trying to build up healthy bodies, we are aiming for healthy body image as well. If we label foods as good foods and bad foods, kids can lose their sense of balance. An occasional piece of chocolate cake isn’t the enemy, but we need to teach our kids that different foods can do different things for our body. Comments such as, “Eating that will make you fat” or “People who care about their health never eat those things” can be tough for a kid to understand and can lead to feelings of shame.

Change is OK!

What happens if your pre-teen comes home and wants to become a vegetarian? The first step if you are a cheeseburger-loving household is to take a breath. There are a few things to remember. Have a conversation about the root of the change. Is there a sincere desire to change or is it precipitated by peers? Do some homework. Study together what nutrients a person needs during their teen years and figure out how this new style of eating will meet these needs. Take it for a test drive. Find some recipes that look interesting and prepare them together. At the end of the test drive, evaluate and see where you stand. One thing to be clear about is the need for teamwork with food prep; help them understand you still have to feed the rest of the family so two separate dinner menus can’t happen without help.

Grace!

Ask God for the grace to give your worries over to him — to remember they may make less than stellar food choices when they aren’t in your kitchen. It’s not just about one meal or one weekend, it’s about making mostly good choices much of the time.

Prayer!

When we pray together before meals, we are trusting that the God who created and adores us will nourish, sustain and bless us and our bodies.


Sheri Wohlfert is a Catholic school teacher, speaker, writer and founder of Joyful Words Ministries. Sheri blogs at www.joyfulwords.org.