5 Do’s and Don’ts for Raising a Healthy Eater
It’s never too soon to start teaching kids healthy eating habits. Try these practical tips from a pediatric dietitian.
Good nutrition is crucial to fuel kids as they grow. But starting them off on the right foot food-wise also sets the foundation for a healthy lifestyle that will carry into adulthood.
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Kids learn these healthy habits through direct experiences with food and by watching others.
“It’s never too soon to start teaching kids good eating habits,” says pediatric dietitian Diana Schnee, MS, RD, CSP, LD.
Here are five ways you can do just that.
Eating together as a family is how kids learn to make healthy food choices and to master table manners. If you insist that young kids sit with you — even if they aren’t ready for solids or are refusing to eat — they’ll start to learn the rules of dining.
Make the most of it by:
Schnee says it’s good to let kids (even picky toddlers) choose from what’s on their plate, and it’s OK if they choose just one or two things.
“You are not a short-order cook. Make a decision about what you will serve, and stick to it,” she says. “If your child does not want to eat all or part of the meal, try to avoid making them something different.”
Kids may need exposure to a food 10 to 20 times before they decide to eat it. It can take another 10 to 20 tries before they determine if they like it. So if your child rejects something, try again in a few weeks, Schnee advises.
Many parents insist that kids clean their plates in order to get dessert. Instead, we should encourage them to learn to recognize their own internal hunger and fullness cues.
“There is no magical quantity for how much they need to eat to earn dessert, but they should have made a reasonable attempt to try the meal,” Schnee says.
Perhaps your child is overweight. You could feel tempted to make some foods completely off-limits, but “forbidden” foods are a draw for kids, and they tend to overeat these foods whenever they get the chance.
Instead, take a balanced approach by encouraging healthier treats and smaller portions of those treats. Again, this is where modeling is important. For example, it’s OK to have ice cream, but everyone should have the kiddie portion and consider going for frozen yogurt with dark chocolate instead of sprinkles and whipped cream.
“Find a way to incorporate these foods on rare occasions, and they will have a healthier approach to them,” Schnee advises.