|My son, Max, enjoying cheese pizza, bananas, and corn.|
We’ve all been there …
Your child is whining for snacks, you’re trying to fold laundry, the phone is ringing, and the baby is crying. So you grab a box of Cheez-Its or a Pop Tart and serve it to your toddler. Not a huge deal, right?
In moderation, sweets and other calorie-dense treats are not a big deal for most children. However, it is a good idea to balance the good food and the less healthy food, and focus on serving right-sized portions.
After studying Wellness in college and spending most of my 20s working in the healthcare industry, of course it makes sense I would try to practice what I preach in my home life. As an adult, I have learned that what you eat has a direct effect on how you feel. This, along with the rising prevalence of childhood obesity and diabetes, is why I choose to try to eat healthy and to have nutritious foods on hand at home at all times.As the grocery shopper and the one who cooks the majority of the meals, this job falls under my list of responsibilities. By teaching my children that eating healthy is fun, and that nutritious food tastes good, I feel like I am doing one of the many things I can to prepare them for adulthood.
Why is nutrition important for young children?
Children need nutritious foods to support their health, growth, and development. The dietary habits of children are largely formed by the age of 5, so start supporting healthy habits from the get-go. Children who eat nutritious foods have more than just a healthier body. They have a healthier mind.
Fear of New Foods
Children have an innate phobia of trying new foods. Help children overcome food neophobia by supporting them as they become more comfortable with new foods. Expose them to a food numerous times to help change their reaction. In order for a child to accept a new food, research has shown the child needs to see the food between 8 and 12 times, but do not be surprised if it takes up to 50 times before your child will try a new food. To help children become more comfortable with foods, find ways to let them help cook or prepare the food.
Be a Positive Role Model
Children often imitate the behavior of the significant adults in their life, so eating healthy foods is no different. If adults make nutritious food choices, children will likely follow suit. The diet of young children resembles those of the adults in their life, and negative attitudes around nutritious foods are the most powerful. Children and adults have a natural fondness for sweet and salty foods. Children pick up on what adults are doing, whether it is avoiding the vegetables on their plate or sneaking potato chips.
As a parent, encourage your children to establish healthy dietary habits. If a child refuses a food the first time it is offered, try again. Create positive messages and environments around healthy foods and remember that you are making an impression with your actions and your words. In our house, no one has to clean his or her plate. This can cause the child to have a poor relationship with food. We offer a variety of foods (within reason!) with different tastes, colors, and textures so my son, Max, can pick what he likes.
One Last Thing
Fruits and vegetables, especially fresh, can be quite costly and have a short shelf life. Do not be afraid of canned or frozen fruits and vegetables. Not only are they less expensive, but also they are still nutrient dense. Stock up on canned and frozen vegetables so you have them available in between trips to the store. Personal favorites in our home are canned peaches and sweet potato fries found in the frozen food section.
Empower your children to eat nutritious foods. This will set them up for a lifetime of healthier eating.
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