Keeping up with nutrition trends is as hard as keeping up with your kids. The list of recommendations changes constantly and leaves most of us confused about what is right for our family. We all want our children to eat healthy, well-balanced diets, but then there is reality.
Thankfully, latest research says you can relax! Some kids are just more hesitant to expand their food choices than others. Here are some things you can do to help:
1. Offer a variety of foods. The willingness to eat a variety of foods has been linked to long-term healthy eating and weight. Select foods from each of the five food groups (vegetables, fruits, grains, low-fat dairy, and quality protein) and offer different foods at every meal and snack. If your child likes a waffle and strawberries for breakfast every day, change it up and offer pancakes or French toast with strawberries. Then, change to a different berry or mixed berries, etc. Use this method each time you feed your children and get more creative over time.
2. Lose the stress. Our goal should be to create healthy eaters in the long-run.Whether or not your child eats the blueberries, feeding should never be stressful. Just like we shouldn’t put pressure on a child for not being able to jump rope, or pump on the swing without practice, we shouldn’t put pressure on kids when it comes to eating.
3. Mealtime is Playtime. Allow your child to explore what foods are available. Talk to them about the food and let them touch it, squish it, and make a mess. Help them use terms that focus on color, texture, and smell instead of words that express like and dislike. A natural progression for a new food may be to touch it, taste it, spit it out, and then many times later they just may eat it! When mealtime is fun, kids are more likely to explore new foods and develop healthy life-long habits.
4. Let kids decide when they are done. Our job as parents is to select the foods to offer, then allow kids to pick what and how much they want to eat. If they say they are finished, don’t ask them to take “two more bites” — ask them if they are full. If they say yes, remind them when the next meal or snack time is, and don’t offer anything in between. This helps kids to recognize fullness, and develop natural portion control.
5. Feeding follows development. Like all development, feeding has milestones. Participating in mealtime with your child will allow you to know what she is capable of. For example, a child should be able to sit upright without assistance before being fed with a spoon. A 10-month-old with teeth may do better with tiny pieces of meat than a 15-month old who doesn’t have any. If it seems like your child isn’t progressing as you expect, it is important to talk to your pediatrician.
6. Model it. Studies show that children adapt the eating habits of their parents. In order to help your child, develop healthy eating habits, it has to start with YOU.
Focus on the long-term. Try not to make it about weight, but instead, healthy eating. If you have concerns about your child’s weight, discuss it with your pediatrician or visit Nationwide Children’s Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition website.
For more tips and information on nutrition and physical activity, check out the Ohio Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics’ new Parenting at Mealtime and Playtime app: http://ohioaap.org/projects/PMP.
Elizabeth Zmuda, DO, completed her residency at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in 2008. She currently works in the Department of Emergency Medicine, Urgent Care at Nationwide Children’s.
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