Promoting Healthy Eating Habits in Young Children

By Simone Stromer, MD, CHC [AADP]

We live in increasingly health-conscious times. With the prevalence of childhood obesity and diabetes it is our obligation to think about how to raise our children as healthy eaters. Here are 5 practical strategies that will make a huge difference in your child and their eating habits:

1) Make the meal time environment positive: Meals should be a time that your child is looking forward to. It should not be a time for criticism or stress. The entire family should participate in the meal, with the child having some role, whether it’s in planning the menu or setting up the table.
2) Encourage your child to play a role in food preparation: Studies have shown that children who help prepare a meal are more likely to “eat what they have made”. Even it’s as simple as stirring the sauce, adding an ingredient or measuring an amount of liquid, the child will have ownership of the meal, fueling their self-esteem as a little cook.
3) Do not use meal time or food as positive or negative reinforcement: Many parents fall into the trap of rewarding their children with food, or threatening them by taking it away. This sets a bad precedent as you are training a child to become an adult who will reward him/herself with food as well.
4) Do not reward a child for finishing all their food: Children have the ability to recognize when they are full. Too often we get caught up in the “Clean your plate” syndrome. This compels children to eat more than they need and ignore internal signals of fullness. Tell your child if they are no longer hungry, they no longer need to eat.
5) Give choices, but not too many: A dinner consisting of three simple foods—protein, grain and a vegetable— is usually more than enough to satisfy a child’s tastes. Set up your child’s plate with all choices on it, and let them “explore” the food, investigating its texture, color and size. Make positive statements about what is on the plate, but again do not force the issue. A hungry child will eventually try something on the plate. If they don’t like any of it, explain firmly that those are the choices and they may not have any other. Do not worry about your child going hungry; they will come around to eat when they get hungry enough again.

Simone Stromer, MD, CHC [AADP]
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