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Tips to grow a healthy eater

March 3, 2014
David Brewer , MOV Parent

We all want our little ones to grow up mentally and physically healthy, right?

Many of you may have been raised to sit at the table until your plate was cleaned and forced to finish your vegetables before you could have dessert but is this really the best way to grow a healthy eater?

This traditional way of thinking has have been passed down for generations, but times have changed and so have the size of our portions and bodies.

Today we are threatened more by the ease of overeating and the risk of developing disordered eating habits. Parents today must take a different approach to feeding their families! Research historically has focused on the importance of a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy to ensure your children's bodies grow.

While a variety of nutritious foods is still very important, recent breakthroughs in child psychology have emphasized these caregiver-tested strategies to start your children off on the right foot as they begin to develop their own personal relationship with food.

Tip 1: Know Your Role

As a parent, you want the best for your children so it's hard to watch them nibble on their meals or refuse to eat fruits and vegetables. However, you shouldn't coerce your children into eating or be their short-order cook. You need to simply offer a variety of healthy foods from all the food groups, make a pleasant eating environment, set an eating schedule and be a good role model.

According to Ellyn Satter, a world-renowned expert in the field of eating and feeding, you as the parent decide what, where and when your children eat, and then demonstrate how to eat healthy through your own habits. Your children choose if they want to eat the foods you offer and how much to consume. Always encourage your kiddos to try new, healthy foods, but never force them. Don't worry, they won't let themselves starve!

Tip 2: Offer a Variety of Foods

Work towards making about half of your children's plates fruits and vegetables! The other half should be made up of lean proteins and grains with at least half of the grains being whole grains like 100 percent whole wheat bread, brown rice and oatmeal. Also, encourage your preschooler to eat or drink three servings per day of low-fat or fat free dairy foods like milk, yogurt and cheese. You may find it helpful to make changes gradually, offer new foods with familiar foods that your children already like or sneak other food groups into meals in ways that they don't notice. Sometimes your children may been to be exposed to a food up to fifteen times before they accept it, so keep trying and be patient!

Tip 3: Get Your Kiddos Involved

Get your children involved in the entire process starting in the grocery store and ending on your plate! Take your children to the store and let them pick out fruits and vegetables to taste test or even play a game of "I Spy" in the produce section. Once you are home, you can make them your cooking-helpers! Give them easy jobs like stirring or simply pressing the start button on the microwave. Try to sit down for dinner as family most days of the week. Once they are big enough, let your children serve themselves from a small serving bowl. When the food is finally on their plate, be sure to talk about it! Describe the "crunchy, sweet" apple or the yummy little broccoli trees.

Tip 4: Don't Reward or Punish with Food

Instead of buying your kiddos a sweet snack when they are sad, try just giving them your love and attention. Likewise, praise your children when they are successful instead of buying treats. Be careful about taking away food as a punishment. Forcing your children to finish their vegetables before they can eat dessert puts the dessert on a pedestal. Children may begin to think that the dessert is a more desirable or "better" food than the vegetables.

David Brewer is a Children's Hunger Alliance dietetic intern.



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