If you are struggling with ways to get your child to eat healthier, here are some expert tips from Lauriston Avery, MS Ed., director of Five Mile River Nursery School in Rowayton, CT.
Top Five Ways to Encourage Healthy Eating
1. Children’s brains grow at an accelerated rate between birth and age five - serve a variety of healthy fats to support brain growth!
- Brains are 100% fat. Young children need appropriate servings of fat in their early years. A phenomenon called “Yuppie failure to thrive syndrome” led parents to be overzealous in restricting fat while feeding their infants. The result was that their babies did not grow in a healthy way.
- Give children choices such as pieces of avocado, nut or soy butters on apple slices, hardboiled egg, and milk (goat’s, almond, coconut and cow’s milk are some good choices) and cheese.
2. Offer healthy choices at planned intervals - children use up many more calories during their active preschool days, be sure to provide a healthy snack center at a specific time frame between meals.
- Plan to serve snacks mid-way between meals, approximately every two hours. The mid-morning snack should be served at approximately 10 am after an 8 am breakfast and before a 12 pm lunch. Make the snack available for approximately half an hour.
- You can close any nutrition gaps with a healthy snack that consists of two choices from two of the four food groups. Make it a whole fruit or vegetable with a whole grain cereal and water.
- Help children with self-care skills by teaching routines that help develop independence. You can lay out the food on the table with a “rebus” instruction guide on how to serve yourself. First wash hands! Then get plate and utensils. Use tongs or serving spoons to serve one, two or three scoops (parents decide).
- If you are at home, designate a bowl of fruit, or a drawer in the fridge, that children have your permission to serve themselves from.
- If you are on the go, pack some non-perishable snacks in reusable containers to have at the ready, don’t let hunger happen! A hungry child can be a very cranky and uncooperative child!
3. Sit down to eat with children, at both meals and snacks, have a lovely conversation with them!
- Children will do as you do. By sitting with them you can model healthy habits, appropriate manners, and language skills.
- Be curious about your children’s thoughts. Meal times are perfect to reflect on the experiences of the day.
- Talk to your children about good foods. Explain how the calcium in broccoli and milk build strong bones, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe sharpen vision!
4. Allow your child to eat whatever is offered in any order they wish. At mealtime provide a choice from each of the food groups. If you don’t want cookies to be eaten first, don’t pack them in their lunch!
- Provide only healthy choices such as vegetables and dip, sliced fruit, whole grain sandwich with a protein middle (such as soy or nut butter, cream cheese, or cold cuts), milk, water, or 100% fruit juice. Make special sweets an organic oatmeal or carrot cookie with raisins. You can use organic sweeteners that provide other nutrients as well. Honey provides some vitamins and minerals that refined sugar does not.
- When you give your child the power to choose what order to eat their food, you will help them develop the power to use their good judgement to feed themselves with healthy food all their lives.
5. When you get up from the table, you’re done!
- If children fool around, it's an indication they are finished. Children can clean up, then wait for the next meal. Children will learn to eat at the appropriate times, and take advantage of what they are served. Remind them when the next meal is, and help them to learn concepts of time!
- When you’re finished, get outside to run and play. Work up an appetite and get fit. Healthy food and exercise, gives strength for learning tasks!
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