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Getting a Healthy Start on Eating Habits

When you think about helping your child develop good eating habits, do memories of your own upbringing surface? For many of us, our eating patterns grew out of early family experiences. Forming healthy eating patterns early on can make a lifetime of difference. Here are a few ways you can help your child develop into a healthy eater:

Watch out for snacking.
Snacking is a field of landmines for overeating, junk food, and empty calories. Offer healthy snacks—put out a bowl of easy-to-eat fresh fruit or vegetables such as carrots, grapes, or celery sticks. Satisfy a sweet tooth with raisins or dried fruit instead of candy.

Limit juice intake.
Most fruit drinks and punches contain less than 10 percent real fruit juice and are often low in vitamins and high in sugar. Switch to 100 percent fruit juice, but remember that too much juice can reduce your child’s appetite for milk and other nutritious foods.

Remember that eating habits are established early and often are resistant to change.
This is an important area of your child’s development and you should not hesitate to speak with your pediatrician if you have questions or concerns about health, growth, or weight.

Involve your children in the meal preparations.
Children often love to help by peeling carrots or helping to set the table. This is a great time to have a conversation about good nutrition.

Make dinnertime together a priority (no matter how difficult).
The family dinner is an endangered institution, but it is a hugely valuable routine that is critical in establishing lifelong patterns and creating a connection to family memories. This can be a time for interesting discussions that also build language skills. Posing a daily question, such as, “What was the best thing about your day so far?” can become a family ritual to which everyone looks forward.

At mealtime, have age-appropriate table expectations.
Allow children to serve themselves when possible. Encourage small portions, but let them know that they can have second helpings. Model serving portions that are not too hefty. Resist the temptation to push the “clean plate club” as this can result in patterns of overeating. Allow children to stop eating when they are no longer hungry.

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