Inspiring your kids to eat healthy can be a difficult feat and requires lots of planning—and the same goes for travel. As any parent knows, steady, healthy meals help keep kids balanced and happy, which means a way better trip for the whole family.
I spoke with dietitian Whitney English, RDN (also a mom to a 17-month-old), at this year's Destination Wellness event, where we partnered with Westin Hotels and Resorts to host a morning of movement, healthy breakfast, and wellness inspiration. English offered expert advice on the best ways parents can keep their kids satiated and energized, especially while traveling. See below for her four tips on how to get your kids to eat healthier—after hearing her expert advice, you'll have the tools to make almost every menu "kid-friendly":
1. Plan your snacks.
"It's all about planning, especially with kids," English tells me.
That said, when it comes to keeping your kids healthy on-the-go, bringing nutritious snacks on the road is key. English suggests your familiar healthy favorites—peanut butter sandwiches, sliced veggies, nuts, and berries. But she also notes that these portable snacks don't necessarily have to be "snack food." If it's difficult to find portable snack food wherever you are, you can bring any healthy item you can find—including what's on restaurant menus.
"Snack foods" can be quite arbitrary. Who says you can't bring an entire meal with you on-the-go?
The one thing she does recommend is that your snack foods have a balance of complex carbs, protein, and healthy fats. That way, you can ensure your kids will be getting adequate amounts of those macronutrients, just in case their meals may be low in those areas.
2. Stick to a routine as often as you can.
According to English, kids thrive on a steady routine. While it can be rather difficult to stick to a tight eating schedule, especially when traveling, it's important that your kids receive nourishment at similar times each day.
"It's not always going to be a sit-down meal," she explains. "But I definitely try to stick to three meals and two snacks a day while traveling. I don't want a cranky screaming 17-month-old on my hands."
When kids receive the nutrients they need throughout the day, they'll feel satiated and calm and won't have any cravings for sweets (more on that later).
3. Let them eat what you're eating.
English participates in "baby-led weaning," a relatively new concept where children skip the purée phase and go straight into solid foods at around 6 months. She explains that when kids eat the same meals as the rest of the family this early on, it can help them establish a more positive relationship with food, normalize body weight, and promote adventurous eating.
That said, if you're going to let your kids eat what you're eating, you should make sure that what you're eating is healthy and nutritious!
"If you're trying to get your kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, the best thing you can do is model that behavior," English notes.
While you should never force your kids to eat fruits and vegetables (this adds pressure to the situation and can actually backfire, she says), making these healthy options readily available is the way to go. Plus, if your kids see you eating nutritious food, chances are they'll want to partake as well.
4. Don't restrict them from sweets.
It would be unrealistic if we discussed children's eating behaviors without addressing sugary sweets. While English notes that it's best to keep sugar as limited as possible for those below 2 years of age, her take on desserts for older kids is certainly relaxed. She acknowledges that cheeky treats are part of childhood, but she stresses that they should remain treats, not everyday experiences.
Her advice is to resort back to tip No. 3: Let your kids model your own behavior, meaning, if the family is having sweets, allow your kid to indulge as well. Restricting them from participating with the family can only backfire, as stated above. However, you have the power to not make those treats readily available. The key is to make sure there are more complex carbs, protein, and healthy fats than sugary desserts on the plate.
Plus, English says, when you give your children nutritious, filling meals, they might not even desire those sweets at all. "By thinking ahead and having these balanced snacks and meals that will keep your child satiated, they hopefully won't be craving sweets as much."
With these four tips, you'll help your kids eat healthier and feel fuller for longer. No matter whether you're shopping at your local grocery store or searching for food on-the-go, you can ensure healthy eating behaviors that will keep your children alert and ready to take on any long haul. Hunger pangs, crankiness, and temper tantrums, begone.