How to help kids develop healthy eating habits The Chandler Arizonan

How to help kids develop healthy eating habits

How to help kids develop healthy eating habits
Opinion
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By Donna Shott
Arizonan Guest Writer

Toddlers can be stubborn about food. At the same time, parents know it’s important for young children to eat healthily.

That’s why First Things First, Arizona’s early childhood agency, works to help parents build healthy eating habits with their toddler and preschooler.

March is National Nutrition Month but helping young kids develop sound eating habits is a year-round goal.

“Providing nourishment to children is of the utmost importance to parents, and also one that can cause undue amounts of stress,” said FTF’s Children’s Health Program Manager Kavita Bernstein.

Bernstein reminds parents food is a brand new and intense sensory wonderland for a child’s body and brain.

“I promise you they are not trying to make this hard,” she said. “They are doing the best they can. Patience with yourself, your child and most importantly the process is what will carry parents through.”

Here are tips for parents:

Let them decide. You can encourage them to eat, of course, but don’t force it. Let them decide how much of what you’ve served they want to eat.

The pressure comes with forcing your child to eat something or “clean your plate” can make mealtime an unhappy experience.

Research shows kids react negatively when pressed to eat, and in the long-run, it doesn’t help them like new foods, even when they’re offered a reward for trying them. Aim to make mealtime an enjoyable and fun experience.

Think long-term. Try not to worry too much if they don’t eat well every day. Studies show young kids usually get enough of what they need over time, as long as they’re consistently given healthy food choices. Check with your doctor or health care provider if you’re concerned about your child’s diet or overall development.

You’re not a short-order cook. Try to not provide an alternative meal if your child refuses to eat what you’ve served. This can develop into a pattern where they will only eat their three or four favorite foods and nothing else.

Trust them to say when. When your child says they’re full, take their word for it. Children’s hunger levels change constantly as their bodies grow and develop. Allowing your child to listen to their own fullness cues will help them learn to not overeat.

Think about their taste buds. Vegetables have a hard time competing with the taste of candy, yogurt and juice, but it doesn’t mean your child’s taste can’t be shaped. The more exposure your child gets to sugary, salty and fatty foods, the less they’ll enjoy naturally-flavored foods like veggies.

Watch your language. Avoid referring to your child as a “picky eater” or “fussy.” Instead, use the power of your words for positive reinforcement: “Look at how you’re using your spoon to eat your soup!” “I love eating with you.”

Remember to try to keep your expectations realistic, avoid the battles and do your best to support your toddler and preschooler with attention, love and understanding. That’s the healthiest diet of all.

First Things First is a voter-created, statewide agency that funds early learning, family support and children preventive health services. Information: FirstThingsFirst.org.

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