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Raising Happy and Healthy Eaters

posted Aug 27, 2018, 1:41 PM by Tracy Ducker, MS, RDN   [ updated Aug 30, 2018, 9:02 AM ]

As parents and caregivers we all want our children to develop healthy eating habits. And they can with our help and guidance. Parents/caregivers have the biggest impact on children’s eating habits and their relationship with food, but sometimes mealtimes can turn into battlegrounds. With your child refusing to eat certain foods or not eating at all or eating too much. Here are some tips to help make mealtimes pleasant and healthy.

Children learn by watching you. By eating healthy foods you teach your child that healthy foods are important. Stock the refrigerator and cupboards with healthy foods, make it easy for everyone to grab a healthy snack.

All children go through the same stages of eating, starting with breastmilk or infant formula then progressing to solid foods. With obesity rates rising in children, you can help your child develop good eating habits by watching for hunger and fullness cues. When babies and toddlers are full they will turn their head away from food, push the food away, begin to play or lose interest in eating, babies may fall asleep. Hunger cues are often easier to recognize, babies will put their fists in their mouth, make sucking noises, and/or cry. Toddlers want to be independent and may verbally tell you, reach for food or have a melt down when hungry. For toddlers it is important to have scheduled mealtimes and 2-3 snacks each day so your child knows when to expect to eat and trusts you will feed him/her, it will also help avoid melt-downs and tantrums due to hunger.

Quick Tip: Always hold your baby when feeding and sit with your toddler. Mealtimes are great for spending quality time with your child and making sure they don’t choke.

Preschoolers often start to exhibit “picky eating” behaviors. This is normal, it’s the parent’s and caregiver’s job to continue to offer a variety of healthy foods and let your child decide what to eat from what is provided. Children at this age can start to have some choices in what they eat. From your planned meal, choose one food group to offer up a choice, for example, give them a choice of what vegetable they would like – carrots or broccoli, then invite to help prepare it. Giving too many choices is confusing for young children and can lead to frustration on both parties. Also, children are more likely to try foods if they have helped prepare or choose it.

Quick Tip: It can up to 10 times or more of offering a food before a child will try it – they may or not like it, but praise them for being adventurous.

School age children are becoming more independent and can be more involved in planning and preparing meals. Many school age children are still “picky eaters,” by continuing to offer a variety of healthy foods you set the stage for the teenage years when they are choosing the majority of what they eat. The appetites of school age children varies from meal to meal and day to day, let them continue to listen to their body's hunger and fullness cues. 

Quick Tip: Don’t be a short order cook. Cook one meal and incorporate at least one or two foods you know your child likes. Let your child decide what he/she is going to eat and encourage them to try new foods but don't force it - it will only lead to frustrated parents and upset children. 

Teenagers are making many of their own decisions on what they eat, so by having healthy foods in the house, you know they will at least be eating healthy in your house. If your teens plays sports, help them choose healthy foods that fuel their bodies and help their performance by discussing food labels and healthy options at the places they eat at.

Quick Tip: Continue to eat together and make mealtimes a relaxed and fun place to gather.

For more information on feeding your child(ren) click here.