Toddlers and food: Encourage healthy eating habits early
Mealtime is a great opportunity to introduce new foods to your child, build relationships and enjoy quality time; explore these suggestions for encouraging healthy eating habits in toddlers.
As babies start to transition from breast milk or bottles and on to table food, it is often a time that produces questions and concerns in many parents, particularly first-time parents. One important note to make during this time is that mealtime is not just about learning healthy eating habits and eating to grow – it’s also a time for our young child to feel valued, respected and important. So, consciously choosing to make the most of meal time for our child can have lasting benefits.
According to Zero to Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families, some steps parents can take to make the most of meals is to talk to their child during mealtime and to not let her eat alone. This will help build strong family relationships. Parents can develop routines around mealtime and snacks, making the child feel loved and secure. It’s a nice time for parents to interact and build on the moment. Just as youth and adults enjoy meals and talking to relax and feel valued, so will do young children.
During the meal, offer three to four healthy eating choices. Although the child may not eat all of them, it will introduce the child to new foods. Sometimes a child will not try a certain food right away but will by the tenth or even the fifteenth time it’s introduced, they may give it a try. Offering healthy choices will provide a healthy meal even if the child does not eat everything.
Another thing to remember is not to force a child to eat. Sometimes, when children are teething, their gums are sensitive causing them to not be the best eaters. Another thing to do is to make sure distractions such as the television, computer and cell phone are turned off. Television, computers and cell phones not only distract the child, limiting the interaction between child and parent, but they also take away from the development of relationships.
Finally, incorporating daily active play sometime throughout the day will release pent up energy. It will also develop the habit of exercise as they grow.
For more articles on child development, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.