- Talk smart. Get into the habit of talking about the healthy foods your child should be eating rather than dwelling on all the unhealthy ones she should avoid. You know what they say about temptation, especially when it comes to the forbidden Froot Loops.
- Don't use food as a carrot -- even if it is a carrot. You should avoid using food as either a punishment or a reward, because it sends mixed signals to a child: "Do something good, and I get a doughnut!" Might seem nice at the time, but what message does that send? Good behavior is rewarded with bad food, a notion that hurts kids in the long run.
- Don't avoid healthy fat. We've seen it happen: Parents have success on a low-fat diet, so they decide that their kids need to follow it, too. Not a great strategy. Kids need healthy fat for brain development. Get a quick video lesson on how to tell good fats from bad ones.
- No watch, no eat. After a long, hard day, it's tempting to just gather around the tube with your plates to watch the latest reality show. But it's not a good idea. Kids (and adults) eat much more, on average, in front of the TV than when they're sitting at the table. Why? They lose awareness of the sacredness of food, and the act becomes mindless -- a sure recipe for overeating. When you concentrate on eating, you can pay better attention to your body's signals that you're full. Not only that, but kids take about 150 fewer steps for every hour of TV they watch, so it's a double whammy: Eat more and burn less!
- Consider a changeup. Some parents have success feeding their children their main meal at lunch rather than at dinner. Oftentimes, kids are so tired at night that feeding becomes more of a battle than it needs to be. It's a good strategy nutritionally because it ensures that they get at least one balanced meal for the day.
A Answers (5)
Michael Roizen, MD, Internal Medicine, answeredThe following tips can help your child develop healthy eating habits:
UCLA Health answered
Encouraging healthy eating habits in a child -- especially a finicky eater -- can be a challenge, but the USDA’s new food guide in the form of a colorful, divided plate may help parents help kids make healthy choices.
The new USDA food guide, known as MyPlate and available online at ChooseMyPlate.gov, was designed to replace the old Food Guide Pyramid, which contained vertical stripes to represent the five food groups plus fats and oils.
The new divided plate features four sections for vegetables, fruits, grains and protein, and a side dish of dairy. Half of the plate is fruits and vegetables, with the vegetable section slightly larger than the fruit section. On the other half of the plate, grains are slightly larger than proteins.
“I think the plate sends a great message and is a good guidepost for every parent, family and individual for what you need to stay healthy and well,” says WendelinSlusser, MD, medical director of the FIT for Healthy Weight Program at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA.
RealAge answeredKeep an eye on your child’s eating habits. What do your kids love to eat? What won’t they eat? I also want to know whether you’ve noticed any change in your child’s appetite. In private, I remind parents to keep their antennae up for clues that their child might be trying to lose weight in an unhealthy way, especially during adolescence. The desire to fit in with their peers, or achieve a body type that some kids associate with perfect beauty or ideal masculinity, can lead adolescents down a dangerous road of unhealthy eating in an attempt to control their weight.
Dangerous techniques include avoiding meals, fasting, and using food substitutes, weight loss supplements, caffeine and smoking as a way to curb appetite. Another indicator of an unhealthy eating habit is hording food -- you might find stockpiles of food you weren’t aware of in closets or backpacks. This could indicate that your child is ashamed of eating in front of others, or has developed a binge-purge routine.
These behaviors are more common in girls than boys, and although some parents think their child’s need to diet is fueled by Hollywood actors and comic book heroes, body dissatisfaction may stem from someone a little closer to home. There is a strong link between a mother’s attitudes about food and body image and her daughter. In other words, one poor self-image begets another.
So, what do you do about it? Try to be the best role model you can be. Compliment your child when they make an effort to look good and don’t put yourself down. Most important, don’t try to enforce a specific diet. If you need to control your own weight, do so in a safe, positive manner. Show your child how eating more fruits and vegetables and decreasing fats and sugars is safer and more effective than the fad diet-of-the-week.
I never recommend dieting to a child or teen who has a healthy body mass index (BMI). Rather than dieting, sensible eating and exercise is the way to go. Offer your children nutritious choices for meals and snacks and help them learn how to balance diet and physical activity.
From Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children by Jennifer Trachtenberg.
Find out more about this book:Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children
Recognize that it is your responsibility as a parent to prepare and serve the food to your child and your child's responsibility as to how much he/she eats. Also realize that it can take anywhere from 10-20 exposures to a new food before developing a palate. After 3 failed attempts at introducing a new food take a break and try again in a few days/weeks. Encourage your child to enjoy a wide variety of foods, colors, textures and flavors by modeling eating behavior and leading by example. Explore the grocery store or local market together to select new foods. Serve small, bite-size portions of a new food with familiar foods at the meal. Encourage and praise rather than bribe. Recognize age-appropriate portion size of foods that are being served. Keep family mealtime positive. Use the Choose My Plate icon as an easy visual guide/tool to promote healthy eating at meals.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics answeredAs with any part of raising children, no one does a perfect job with nutrition -- not even nutrition professionals. As a parent, grandparent or adult caregiver, you can help to raise healthy eaters during these critical years by doing your best to:
- Serve regular, balanced meals and snacks with a variety of nutrient-rich foods.
- Provide calm, pleasant meal times where adults and children can talk together.
- Allow children to use their internal signals to decide how much and what to eat.
- Explore a variety of flavors and foods from different cultures and cuisines.
- Share an appreciation for healthful food, lovingly prepared and shared with others.
- Make simple food safety, like washing hands, part of every eating occasion.
- Teach basic skills for making positive food choices away from home.
- Find credible food and nutrition resources when you don't know the answer.