My friend Dana has a daughter named Mia who will be two years old this summer. Mia is such a blessing in so many ways. One of my favorite things about Mia is how adventurous she is when it comes to food. Mia has been eating bean dips and berries since she took her first bite of solid food. She willingly asks for hummus and sweet potatoes! I am fascinated by food preferences….especially the food preferences of children. Why it is that some children love to eat vegetables and fruits, but other don’t even like to be in the same room as a leaf of lettuce? One of the reasons I believe that Mia eats so well is because Dana eats that way. Mia is used to seeing vegetables on her plate, so when Dana gives her carrots and lentils for dinner, she is happy to eat them.
As a pediatric dietitian, I teach children and families how to eat – at least that’s my goal. Most of what I have learned about how to do this effectively I learned from the patients and families that I have worked with. I have noticed that families that successfully improve their eating habits are the ones who follow these five strategies.
I would like to share these five strategies with you. Here you go…
5 ways to help your child make healthy food choices
- Set a good example. Children learn to eat what they see their parents, siblings, and peers eating. Although it is difficult to control what your child’s peers are eating, you can control what you eat and what your other children eat. So if you want your children to eat more vegetables, make sure that they see you eating more vegetables.
- What are my options? Children love to have options. Adults love to have options. Help your child to make better food choices by giving them limited options. For example, if you serve three vegetables for dinner, ask your child to choose at least two of the three to eat for that meal. For some children it might take up to 30 times of seeing a food on their plate before they will even taste it! Be patient. Building healthy eating habits takes time, but it is so worth it.
- Remember, you’re the parent. Some children kick, scream, and cry, if they don’t get what they want. You might have heard of these children….you might even know one. This is fairly common, but it does not have to stay this way. I often hear parents say “but if I don’t give him a Pop Tart for breakfast he just won’t eat!” If your child tells you that he is going to starve unless he gets a Pop Tart, guess what? You child is very clever and knows how to work you. He’s not going to starve. It’s ok to say “no”. It is a lot easier to say “yes”, but “no” is sometimes the best response. It makes children feel safe when their parents set boundaries and stick to them.
- Don’t fill your house with tempting foods. If you don’t want to be tempted, don’t surround yourself with things that are going to tempt you. If you want a treat, go out and have a treat. Many families have told me that this one strategy has completely shifted the home environment. Instead of having bags of cookies and other junk food at home, many families will instead use that money to go out for pizza or ice cream once a week.
- Size does matter. In general, children are smaller than adults. That means that they need less food than adults. A five year old should not be eating the same quantity of food as a 200-pound adult. Sometimes it’s not what you’re eating, but how much.
What strategies do you use to help your child make healthy food choices?
God, I would like to put in a request for a baby that willingly asks for bean dips. Thank You!