We all know that good nutrition is important but how do we get our kids to eat healthfully? Meal time battles are unpleasant for everyone and ultimately do not lead to healthy eating habits.
Here are some suggestions:
- RELAX. Try to remember that eating habits are a bit of a roller coaster for us all. Sometimes we make excellent choices and some days we don’t. Toddlers, especially, may eat large amounts during periods of rapid growth and very little at other times. If your child’s growth curves are normal, rest assured that they are probably getting what they need.
- Recognize that parents and children have different responsibilities.
- Bring a variety of healthy foods into the home
- Choose the time and structure of meals
- Provide an environment free of distractions Recognize the signals of hunger or fullness
- Model healthy eating
- Select from the food on their plate
- Decide how much of those foods to eat
- Sit with family at mealtime to practice good manners and observe the parent’s healthy eating habits
Specific nutrient goals
1% or skim milk or low-fat, low-sugar yogurt are the best choices. Needs vary by age:
- 12-24 months: 500mg per day
- 2 -8 years: 800mg per day
- 9-18 years: 1200-1500 mg per day
1 cup (8oz) milk or yogurt = 300mg
Water and milk are the best drinks for kids. Sweet tea, soda, lemonade, sports drinks and even natural juices are filled with empty calories and promote cavities.
Offer protein at each meal but vary the type of protein. Protein can be chicken, fish, turkey, pork, beef, nuts, dairy, eggs, or beans. Try to limit beef to 1-2 times per week and cheese to 1-2 times per day as these are high in saturated fats (the kind associated with heart disease).
Offer whole grains when possible. This means choosing to serve brown rice rather than white, whole grain or whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta, etc.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES:
Offer fruits and/or vegetables at every meal or snack. Consider offering more than one vegetable and allowing your child to pick. Remember to eat your veggies too so that you model good behavior!
Teach children that desserts are very special treats to be enjoyed 1-2 times per week or on very special occasions. Children should not be allowed to have ice cream, cookies, candy or cake every day.
DO’S AND DON’TS FOR HEALTHY EATING HABITS
- Don’t make meal time a battle. Encourage children to try a bite of everything. If they refuse to stay at the table, don’t let them play with toys, watch TV, talk on the phone or enjoy other rewards until the rest of the family has finished.
- Don’t force children to eat when they aren’t hungry. Alternatively, don’t feel obligated to make a picky eater something unique that wasn’t offered to everyone else. You choose the food; the children choose how much and if they will eat.
- Don’t offer dessert as a reward for eating. Let them know they will get a small portion of the dessert when everyone has finished their main meal. While they are waiting, they may decide to eat their meal! Remember, desserts should be occasional treats!
- Don’t let them snack in the hour before a meal. Hungry children are more likely to try new foods.
- Don’t expect children to eat foods that are too hot, too hard to chew, too hard to pick up or otherwise developmentally inappropriate for their age.
- Don’t expect young children to have perfect manners at the beginning. It takes time for children to learn good table manners. If you have children 6 and under, do expect a mess sometimes.
- Don’t allow children to watch TV or play on phones while eating. Do make sure they have a booster seat, sippy cup, or other things they need to be comfortable at their age.
Good nutrition is a long-term project, not a short-term goal. You have many years to teach your children good nutrition and all the lessons don’t need to be learned at once. By making mealtimes an enjoyable family event, you will be promoting a healthy attitude towards food and avoiding overeating and other eating disorders. Take this time to ask your children about their day and share your own experiences. Encourage children to help with meal preparation, setting the table and cleanup. Kids also enjoy selecting fruits and vegetable at the store, visiting farmer’s markets and searching cook books for recipes to try.
Bottom line, enjoy healthy food and enjoy each other!