Food 1-1Published 3:59pm Monday, August 12, 2013
I’ve had several readers send questions regarding children’s eating habits, i.e. ‘How do I get my children to eat more vegetables?’ ‘What kind of suggestions to you have for picky eaters?’ So I will combine these questions, and address overall nutrition for children.
Getting kids to eat healthy is so important, and it seems like it should be simple enough, but it can be very challenging! Our tongues were designed with sensors that are attracted to fat, salt, and sugar, so it’s no wonder that kids are naturally drawn to sweets, fast food, and other snack foods. As parents, it’s our job to steer our children to make good choices in their lives – and this includes making good food choices.
The most crucial time for children to develop good eating habits is during the first few years of their life. This is when they develop their food preferences, their ability to control how much they eat, and their overall relationship with food that will drive how they eat for the rest of their lives.
Try my Top Ten Tips to Ensure Good Eaters:
1. Eat at the table. Our culture has lost respect for the meal table, and now we eat whenever and wherever we feel like! If eating is reserved for the table, it helps children slow down and think about what they’re eating and not over consume. This includes snacks!
2. Get out your pots and pans! Kids need to eat real food, not packaged processed junk. Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated or gourmet. Just cook!
3. Take a “courtesy bite.” When a new food is served (whether at home or away), require at least one “courtesy bite” of each food on the table.
4. Try, try again. Research shows that it takes multiple (sometimes at least 10) exposures to new foods for children to change their response to new flavors and textures.
5. Carbohydrates = Reward. Kids (especially very young) usually gravitate toward the carbohydrate portion of the meal and fill up on it first, so save the bread, rice, crackers, potatoes, etc. as a reward for eating the protein and vegetable components of the meal. Keep it off the table until the child earns the reward!
6. Boot Camp. For extremely picky eaters (been here, done that!) you may have to go to Boot Camp and start all over. Purposefully choose to serve only disliked and new foods at lunch and dinner for two weeks. This may sound cruel, but when you’re dealing with the strong will of a child, it requires the parent to be stronger. The child may choose to go without eating. That’s OK. Their hunger will eventually overrule their will, and you will be pleased with what they decide to eat!
7. Keep it simple. Opposite to what you might think, providing several choices of foods at meal times actually creates picky eaters because of the choices to be made. Send appropriate amounts of foods with children to school and events.
8. I want to help! Let older children pick out recipes, make grocery lists, shop, and prepare one meal each week. Let toddlers stand on a chair and learn about the foods while you cook. Giving kids some ownership somehow makes the food taste better!
9. Pass on the Puffs. The food industry has not done us any favors by developing all kinds of foods that toddlers “need”, i.e. Gerbers Puffs. Again, stick to real foods. As parents, it’s our job to steer our children to make good choices – including good food choices.
10. Limit snacking. Kids will eat better at mealtimes if snacks are limited between meals. Provide whole foods (fruits and vegetables) rather than “snack foods” and limit to 100 calories.
As a registered dietitian and mother of 4, I have put these tips to the test and stand behind them! I have failed at following them at times and paid the consequences, but have also seen the fruits of our labor, as I have 2 adventurous eaters (ages 5 and 7), a 2-yr-old who is making great strides after having a very small ‘box’ from which he ate, and an aspiring 1-month old. Please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org by September 15th.