Healthy Children Begin with Healthy Eating

Healthy eating is about more than just consuming food that is good for you. Healthy eating is about sharing meals with others, building social skills and relationships, and laying a foundation for a healthy body and mind.  Nutritious food is crucial for children’s development and it is important they eat well at home, school, and when they are out in the community.  While recent research by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has shown an increase in the weight of Americans, the rate in obesity in young children (ages 2-5) is beginning to decrease.  How can parents and educators ensure children are getting the most out of what they eat?

The importance of liquids in a child’s diet

There are several suggestions to ensure long-term healthy eating habits in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly urges breastfeeding as the most natural way to feed babies.  While this may not be possible for all family dynamics, it provides the most nutritional benefits.  As children grow, the beverages they consume become another major nutritional source.  After the age of one, it is beneficial for children to drink whole milk and after the age of two, children should drink 1% or skim milk.  The amount of juice should be limited to young children and sweetened beverages, such as soda, should not be offered at all.

Widening a child’s healthy food horizon

While all children have their own food preferences, it is important to offer a variety of healthy foods and to offer them many times.  Children will only try food they are offered and sometimes it takes a while to develop a taste for a particular food.  If a child is rejecting a fruit or vegetable, get creative to encourage them.  For picky eaters, using dips (such as ranch and yogurt based dips) may be a great way to slowly introduce new fruits and vegetables.  Grocery stores even sell yogurt based ranch, that is a much healthier option than buttermilk ranch and you can hardly taste the difference!

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Encourage your child to become an active participant in food

While a parent or educator can offer a child certain foods, have the child be the decision maker on how much to eat and whether or not to eat a particular food.  In Bobbie Rose’s, article Healthy Eating for Young Children, she discusses the importance of establishing a “division of responsibility”.  Allowing the child to actively make some of these decisions strays from the idea of it being necessary to “clean your plate” which often leads to overeating.

Another idea to engage your child in food is through family-style eating.  Family-style eating naturally allows for conversations about food and also gives children the ability to try and share new foods. Conversations about food can have a positive impact on an early learner.  It can help them learn where food comes from and how it grows. Take learning a step further with hands-on cooking which not only teaches healthy eating habits, but it ties in mathematics, science, and literacy. Depending on the age of the child, they could help pick ingredients at the grocery store and if old enough, get involved by chopping vegetables in the kitchen.  Next time you and your family sit down for a meal, remember the benefits that food experiences can bring your child!


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