Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Children
Help your child develop healthy eating habits
Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, nutrition and health education specialist, Barton County and Janet Hackert, nutrition and health education specialist, Harrison County, University of Missouri Extension
One of the best gifts a parent can give a child is helping them develop healthy eating habits, which can build a strong foundation for lifelong health. Parents can encourage healthy eating habits by serving a wide variety of foods, getting children involved and being a good role model.
Children tend to practice what they see. If they see other family members eating a wide variety of healthy foods, they will assume that is normal and do the same. Children don’t respond well when they are being served something different than what their parents are eating. Family meal time is important because it provides an opportunity for good nutrition and a chance to learn table manners. Young children who eat meals with their family develop important language and conversational skills, and teens who eat meals with their family engage in less risky behavior than those who don’t.
Getting children involved increases the likelihood that they will try and like new foods. Younger children who know their colors can help find the bluest blueberries and reddest tomatoes at the grocery store. They can also scrub potatoes, toss a salad or set the table. Older children can help plan meals they think will look and taste good together. They may also be able to help prepare and cut vegetables for a salad or stir-fry, or follow simple instructions for microwaving foods. Pre-teens and teens can find and follow a recipe from a cookbook, discover something tasty and nutritious from the Web or create their own. They can also check nutrition information to make sure what they have chosen is healthy or put their math skills to work by finding the best bargain for the best flavor.
Just like adults, children need to eat whole grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean meat and low-fat dairy products (after age 2). Parents should limit the amount of sugary foods and sugar-sweetened beverages children consume — they add calories but little or no nutritional value.
Parents also need to set a regular schedule for children, and prepare healthy meals and snacks. Once the meal or snack is served, it is the child’s job to decide how much of it they are going to eat. If they choose not to eat, it means they aren’t hungry. The next meal or snack won’t be far away and they will most likely eat very well then.
Remember that parents have the most influence over children’s eating habits. Build a healthy eating plan on a good nutritional foundation. Involve children in planning, preparing and serving delicious, nutritious foods and help them form healthy habits for life.
Last update: Sunday, May 23, 2010