At some point during your young child’s life, you may face challenges that involve getting them to eat well. Often, the first challenge presents itself during the toddler years, in which children can become quite picky and more defiant. As kids are exposed to so many unhealthy foods that are specifically marketed towards kids and teens, these foods can cause excess weight gain.
When parents come to me seeking nutritional counseling for their child, we spend a lot of time discussing their role in their child’s nutrition. The reason behind this is because children learn so much about food and eating from the family. Consider the paradigm of nature vs nurture. Yes, there are certain inborn physiological predispositions children may have toward food and eating. This is the “nature” side of the paradigm; however there is also the “nurture” side, in which you influence how your children eat. Your kids have 3-5 learning experiences with you that are related to food each day (meals + snacks), beginning from infancy. Children are only able to eat and learn what foods you choose to present to them and in what manner you present food.
Below are some tips about parents’ roles in developing healthy eaters:
- Be the eater you want your child to be. If you want your children to eat fruits and vegetables, then you need to eat fruits and vegetables during each meal as well. If you want your kids to stay seated at the table without distractions, like TV or toys, you will need to show them how to behave every single day. Whatever expectation you have for your children, you must be the ideal role model.
- Choose your words carefully. Kids hear everything. It is amazing how the comments we make without even thinking can stick with kids and shape their attitudes. When it comes to food, eating and weight, you must be mindful about speaking positively. Refrain from making negative comments about yourself and your eating habits in front of them. Use family mealtimes to discuss health and nutrition with your kids. Never criticize or punish your child for eating a certain way or refusing what you want them to eat.
- Shop wisely. This may be a no-brainer, but it is easier said than done. Healthy eating habits start at the grocery store, in terms of what you choose to bring into the home. You and your family will eat what is available at the house, especially when hunger is peaking. Make a decision to bring healthy foods into the house. If you need help with how to buy healthy foods that are also filling, ask a dietitian to accompany you to the store and plan a week’s worth of meals and snacks.
- Be consistent. Whether it’s the routine of nightly family meals, getting active on the weekends or setting boundaries around snacking- the key is to be consistent. This is true for any behavior or attitude you want to shape for your child. In order to establish healthy habits, your child needs to receive the same message from you day after day, both in words and actions.
For additional advice on how you can help your child eat healthier, schedule an appointment with one of our registered dietitians. We can analyze your child’s diet, visit your home to evaluate what is in the fridge and pantry and accompany you to the store to get the best foods for the family. 877-486-4140.