Recent reports that childhood obesity is dropping for 3 to 5 year olds is encouraging. However, the report focused on school lunches, school vending machines and introducing The Plate as the new nutrition standard. We are all aware, like good behavior and good study habits it all begins at home.
Parents with bad eating habits will pass them on to their children. Kids won’t eat healthy things if that is not part of their primary life style. Here are ten tips for parents to help preschoolers make healthy eating habits a way of life.
- Eat every meal and snack at the table as much as possible. Allowing a child to eat on the couch while watching TV or run around with food while playing creates unwanted patterns. Snacking while watching TV connects the two. So every time their favorite show comes on they are suddenly hungry. Serving all food at the kitchen table separates activities from food. Mealtime and snack time become separate activities from TV viewing and play.
- Letting a small child feed himself actually reduces unnecessary calories. While a toddler feeds himself he is developing small motor skills, and he tends to eat slower taking his time to appreciate textures and flavors. A small child will accept assistance if he is really hungry, but once that hunger is satisfied he will play with his food and turn his head away. At which point it is best to clear away the food even if you feel he should eat more.
- Serve child-size portions. A few pieces of broccoli, one or two ounces of meat and a half a glass of milk is a mini version of The Plate. You can always serve more if the child is really hungry. This is especially true in serving dessert. Half a cupcake is far better than a whole one for preschoolers.
- Crying and fussing do not equal hunger. Nor do you want to use sweets to distract your child from his bad mood. Using food to pacify a preschooler when he is angry, frightened or even bored is building a foundation for stress eating later in life.
- Don’t buy treats every time baby is at the store with you. Don’t bring home candy for your child every time you run an errand. Even if your child throws a fit because they can’t accompany you, don’t promise to bring back food as reward.
- Making sure your child has a consistent bedtime and naptime is very important. Fussing from fatigue may cause a child to reach for a snack rather than his pillow.
- Hydration curbs appetite. Be sure your child is drinking plenty of water. Milk and juice should not be the only thing your child drinks. You can purchase child size water bottles or have a special water cup. Encouraging children to enjoy plain water cuts sugar cravings.
- Avoid soft drinks from the get go. We all know one of the first things adults who want to lose weight will eliminate from their diet is soft drinks. So why even make that an option for a young child?
- Children need about six small meals a day. Be sure that they are not laden with candy, cookies and salty snacks. Be sure to read labels on toddler snacks. Remember baby cheese puff products become adult junk food choices. Choose fruits, veggies and proteins for snacks.
- You are the adult: no is no. Be tough. Your child won’t starve if you deprive him of unhealthy food choices. If they are truly hungry, they will eat the nutritious foods they are given. At this young age they will learn to enjoy the good stuff.
None of these tips will be of any value if you as the parent don’t exercise good eating choices. If you practice the old adage “Do as I say, not as I do,” be prepared for a fight. Your child will want to eat whatever you are eating. You set the example, challenge yourself to make it a good one.