Health and nutrition for young children: Good food habits

Teaching children good food habits involves a variety of practices including spending enough time at the table and encouraging them to try new foods.

According to “Nibbles for Health: Nutrition Newsletters for Parents of Young Children,” teaching good food habits to children starts with giving children enough time at the table. Children can fiddle at the dinner table, which is normal, and they don’t have the muscles or skills to eat as fast as adults; they are also still mastering utensil use. It takes 20 minutes to feel full, and we need the time to enjoy the food. Rushing mealtime will lead to frustration for both the parent and the child.

Our children watch what we eat, so we also need to be a good role model in order to cultivate good food habits in them. If they see us trying new foods, they are more apt to try new foods themselves. It is not what we say, it is what we do that help children learn good food habits.

Caregivers should refrain from using food as a punishment or to appease their child. Eating for parental approval or love teaches unhealthy behaviors and attitudes about food and themselves. Using the clean plate tactic teaches them to ignore body signs of fullness, and may lead to over-eating. When we offer a food such as desert as a reward for eating another food such as their vegetables, they learn that one food is better than another. Giving food treats to help them feel better teaches children to relieve negative feelings by eating, which can lead to overeating and possible struggles with weight in the future.

Adults should reward our children with positive attention and kind words. Comfort them with hugs and spending time with them. The parent should work to provide food and then encourage the child to decide what to eat and how much.

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