Teach your kids healthy eating habits

As a parent, you are the most important influence on your child. You can do many things to help your child develop healthy eating habits for life.

Start healthy eating habits by introducing your child to a variety of foods. Children need nutrients from a variety of food groups to support their growing bodies and minds. They are more likely to try new foods, and to like more foods, if they are exposed at an early age.

But don’t stop there. Here are some additional tips to get your child on a path to a lifetime of healthy habits.

  1.  Lead by example. Let your child see you indulge in fruits and vegetables at meals and snacks.
  2. Go grocery shopping together. Use a trip to the grocery store to teach your child about food and nutrition. Discuss where foods come from and let them add their own healthy choices to your cart.
  3. Be creative in the kitchen and let your child help. Cut fruits into fun shapes with cookie cutters. Try a simple, healthy recipe like a trail mix with dry whole-grain cereals, nuts and dried fruits. And name a food your child helps make, like “Sarah’s zucchini noodles!”
  4. Prepare one meal for all. Avoid becoming a short order cook by accommodating different preferences or pickiness. This will expose your child to new foods and help to avert a picky eater. Plus, it is easier and cheaper to serve one meal to everyone in your family.
  5. Reward your child with a fun activity, not food.  Celebrate with activities, such as a trip to the pool, a bike ride or family hike. When you use candy or dessert, especially as a reward, your child might think of those foods as better options.
  6. Eat dinner at a table and focus on each other. Pleasant topics at mealtime will help make dinner that much more enjoyable.
  7. Limit screen time. TV viewing has a direct correlation to obesity. Aim for less than two hours of TV per day.
  8. Listen to your child.  If they are hungry, serve fruits or vegetables as between-meal snacks.
  9. Encourage physical activity. Play with your child and encourage outside activities. And, be an example. Research shows that children of parents who exercise are more likely to exercise as they grow up. Be sure to use safety gear such as bike helmets or other sport- specific gear.
  10. Don’t force it. Offer one new food at a time. Serve something your child likes along with the new food. Avoid lecturing or forcing your child to eat.

Cook together, eat together, talk together and make mealtime family time! You can find more information on childhood eating at EllynSatterinstitute.org or at choosemyplate.gov.

Caldwell Shackelford Photo3

By Ann Caldwell and Maureen Shackelford, nutritionists and registered dietitians at Anne Arundel Medical Center. To reach them call 443-481-5555.

Originally published Sept. 11, 2017. Last updated Oct. 23, 2019.

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