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Teaching Kids to Eat Healthy

If you were to offer your child a candy bar or an apple, which would they choose? What if instead, you offer them the choice between crackers and cheese or an apple? Teaching kids to eat well can be real tricky. You don't want to turn every meal into a lecture, but if you wait too long, they could pickup unhealthy habits in the meantime.

Not Just a Rule, But a Routine

If you keep food choices healthy, your child is more likely to eat healthy. Get everyone involved in choosing nutritious, tasty option for family meals. take kids with you to the grocery store or farmer's market. Younger kids can help pick out fresh fruit and vegetables. older kids can take on larger roles like choosing recipes and making a shopping list. The first step toward encouraging and teaching heathy eating habits is to fill your kitchen with a variety of nutritious foods

Eating together as a family is how kids can learn healthy food choices and table manners. If you insist that young kids sit at the table with you, even if they aren't ready for solids or are refusing to eat, they'll start to learn the rules of dining. Kids who eat dinner with their family are more likely to make healthier food choices and less likely to snack on junk food. You don't have to lecture them about nutrition. Make mealtime fun by playing music or silly games or let them invite a friend.

Show Kids What "Eating Right" Looks Like

Explain to kids that they should fill half their plate with fruits and veggies that have nutrients that will help their bodies grow. The other half should be whole grains and lean protein that gives them energy to run and play. When you are cooking and grocery shopping, show them different examples of these key food groups.

  • Use the Food Guide Pyramid as a guide. When trying to determine how many servings your child needs, ask your doctor or dietitian. In general, younger and smaller kids need fewer servings than older and bigger children.
  • Eat a variety of grains, especially whole grains.
  • Encourage a variety of fruits and vegetables.
  • Watch fat intake, especially saturated fat, for everyone in your family older than two.
  • Save sweets and soft drinks for special treats.

Keep Trying If You Don't Succeed

Children need exposure to food 10-20 times before they decide to eat it. It can take another 10-20 tries before they determine whether they like it. If your child rejects something, try again in a few weeks.

Avoid Calling Foods "Good" or Bad"

Kids should learn that all food have a place in their diet. Label foods as "go" "slow" or "whoa". Kids can "green light" foods like whole grains and skim milk, and "slow down" on less healthy foods like waffles. Foods with the least nutrition, like French fries, shouldn't be forbidden, but kids should think twice before they eat them often.

Talk About Portion Size

It's not just what kids eat that matters, but how much they eat. Even young kids can learn that the amount of rice or pasta they eat should match the size of their fist. Protein should be palm sized, and fats like butter or mayonnaise about the tip of their thumb. When you are shopping at the store, have kids find the serving size on packed foods. Talk about why sticking to it is a good idea.

young woman cooking in the kitchen

Limit Sweets

Explain to older kids the harm sugar can do to their body, even though cookies and candy taste good. You can tell younger kids that too many sweets will make the feel "yucky". Then offer them fresh fruit for dessert and limit treats to two or three times a week to keep sweet cravings in check.

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Don't Forbid Treats

You could feel tempted to make some food completely off-limits, if your child is overweight. Making food "forbidden" is a draw for kids, and they tend to overeat these foods whenever they get the chance. Try a balanced approach by encouraging healthier treats and smaller portions of this treats. This is where modeling is important. For example, it's ok to have ice cream, but everyone should have the kiddie portion and consider frozen yogurt instead with dark chocolate instead of sprinkles and whipped cream.

Here Are Some Healthy Habits To Adopt:

  • Try to offer foods from at least three food groups at each meal and from at least two food groups at snack times. This will involve some advanced planning before you go grocery shopping.
  • Switch from white to whole-wheat bread or replace white rice with brown rice.
  • Make an official family rule: No eating in front of the TV - even snacks. Research shows that people tend to eat for reasons other than hunger when the TV is on.
  • Purchase only low-fat dairy products for children over age two. Examples include low-fat milk, low-fat cheese, skim milk, and low-fat frozen yogurt.
  • Toss out unhealthy snacks and load up on healthy ones, such as carrot sticks, fresh or dried fruit, low-sugar cereal, low-fat popcorn, frozen fruit juice on a stick, frozen bananas, graham crackers, pretzels, and nuts.
  • Purchase only lean varieties of meat
  • Identify healthy, quick dinners you can easily make for busy evenings, such as frozen cheese pizza with cut-up vegetables on top.
  • Use cooking methods that require little or no fat, such as broiling, steaming, and roasting, rather than frying.
  • Practice techniques that help children get in touch with the natural cues their body gives them about hunger and fullness. For instance, encourage children to take smaller bites, chew long, and put their fork or spoon down between bites.

Model Good Eating Habits

If you push your kids to eat broccoli but never touch it yourself, you might want to take a closer look at your diet. Every bite you take matters. "Role modeling is one of the best ways to get your children onboard with healthier eating," says Stephanie Middleberg, a registered dietitian in New York City.

Check In With Your Family Doctor

If you believe your child needs to lose or gain weight, don't put them on a diet. Instead speak to their doctor. "Your pediatrician can help you discuss basic food groups, mealtime behaviors, food portions, and weight," Fisher says.

Sources:

  • Teaching Kinds About Nutrition and Healthy Food Choices
  • Teaching Kids Healthy Eating Habits

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