When it comes to kids, the earlier parents instill healthy eating habits, the better. The benefits of establishing healthy eating habits early can be lifesaving and will last them a lifetime. When young children are given nourishing wholesome foods, they are more likely to eat healthy foods as they get older; and lifestyle habits developed during childhood often become lifelong habits.
Good eating habits can help prevent a host of health-related problems in childhood and beyond. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the past 30 years, obesity has doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents. This leads to higher risk factors for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, prediabetes, and bone and joint problems. In fact, by 2000, nearly 46 percent of newly diagnosed cases of childhood diabetes were Type 2, no longer known as “adult onset” diabetes. As diabetes is diagnosed earlier, diabetic complications like amputations, blindness, and kidney failure will also happen at an earlier age.
Since obese children are likely to be obese adults, they’ll have a higher risk of several types of cancer, including breast, pancreas, colon, esophagus, kidney, and others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that because of the rising obesity rates, this may be the first generation of children that will live shorter lives than their parents.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 25 percent of children aged 5 to 10 have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or other early warning signs for heart disease. And the US Department of Agriculture reports that children consumed an average of 118 more calories per day in 1996 than in 1978, which means a weight gain of 12 pounds per year if not offset by physical exercise.
What to do with Your Picky-Eater?
Instilling healthy eating habits in children early can help keep them healthy throughout their lives. However, if your child is a picky eater, establishing healthy eating habits can be challenging. In general, it takes between eight and ten presentations of a new food to a child before it’s accepted. Below are 15 tips to instill healthy eating habits in your picky-eater!
15 Tips for Cultivating Healthy Eating Habits in Children
- Expose them to a variety of healthy foods early. Serving infants and toddlers a variety of wholesome foods with varying tastes and textures means they’ll be more likely to eat these types of foods as they get older.
- Pace introductions to new foods. Serve new foods with a child’s favorite foods and serve only one new food at a time.
- Model healthy eating. Youngsters will be more likely to eat a healthy diet if it is modeled for them by parents.
- Don’t buy food you don’t want your children to eat. If you stock the kitchen with healthy foods, that’s what the children will eat.
- Limit salt and sugar. Not only are these harmful for children, but once a taste is acquired for sugary and salty foods, these preferences will last a lifetime.
- Never use food as a reward, bribe, or punishment. Desserts or special snacks offered as a reward or bribe to eat healthy foods will only backfire. Healthy desserts and snacks should be part of a child’s healthy diet.
- Get them involved. Take children to the grocery store to help select foods, and ask them to help prepare meals.
- Make new foods fun. Make healthy eating a fun experience by cutting foods into fun shapes or making a game out of it. Have a picnic or eat somewhere other than the kitchen table.
- Eat at home, together. Eating home-cooked meals is healthier than eating out and can be a great time for the family to be together at the end of the day.
- Control portions. Control children’s portion sizes, which have continued to grow, leading to obesity and other health problems.
- Limit beverages. Picky eaters sometimes fill up on liquids and aren’t hungry for food.
- Limit snacking. Limit snacks to three times a day (mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and evening snack) so the child is hungry at mealtime.
- Avoid making mealtime a battleground of wills. Don’t insist your child try a new food, rather coax them to try new things by providing an “out” if they don’t like it. “If you taste it and don’t like it, then you don’t have to eat it.”
- Avoid making special meals. Don’t make special meals for a picky eater. Invite them to eat the same meal everyone else is eating.
- Be Patient. Don’t give up or give in; be consistent and patient.
Establishing healthy eating habits in your picky-eater may often prove challenging. However, it is not impossible. Consistently applying healthy food practices during early childhood is key. With time and patience your child with develop healthy eating habits that will benefit them for a lifetime.
Jody Amato is a freelance writer and editor and regular contributor to Eating in the Real with Renée TM. To find out more about Jody visit her website at jodyedits.com.
- Kraber, Laura. “7 Strategies for Picky Eaters,” drfranklipman.com, http://www.drfranklipman.com/7-strategies-for-picky-eaters/. Accessed August 20, 2015
- Drotz, Keeley C., “Instilling Healthy Eating Habits in Children: It’s Never Too Early!” http://www.mckinneyonline.com/October-2012/Instilling-Healthy-Eating-Habits-in-Children-Its-Never-Too-Early/. Accessed August 20, 2015.
- “Healthy Eating Habits for Your Child,” WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/children/guide/kids-healthy-eating-habits. Accessed August 20, 2015.
- “Nutrition for Children and Teens: Easy Ways to Help Your Kids Eat Healthier,” Help Guide, http://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/nutrition-for-children-and-teens.htm. Accessed August 20, 2015.
- “Childhood Obesity Facts,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm. Accessed August 27, 2015.
- “National Health Priorities,” National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity, http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/cdc_briefing_book_fy10.pdf. Accessed August 28, 2015.