When given healthy food options at regular intervals, children will naturally choose the right amount of food necessary for their growing bodies. This means that children should be provided with 3 well-balanced meals a day with healthy between-meal snacks if needed. Problems with under- or over-eating often arise if children are offered inconsistent nutrition, or high calorie foods without a regular meal schedule. Also, if children are offered food for entertainment or as bribes, they can begin to lose touch with their own sense of hunger and satiety. From the beginning, allow your toddler to self regulate how much he or she eats. Provide healthy foods on a regular meal and snack schedule, and your child will let you know if he or she has had enough. By the time children are age 4, they often eat serving sizes similar to adults. To continue to encourage self-regulation, you can allow them to serve themselves at mealtime. Here at Ho Co Pediatrics, we plot your child’s growth at every well visit to ensure they are growing adequately, and discuss nutrition at each well visit.
Many parents don’t appreciate that when it comes to diet and exercise, they are the most powerful influence on their child’s behaviors. If parents are exercising regularly and eating healthily, their children will automatically learn the importance of making healthy choices. At home, encourage “mindful eating”, paying attention to food choices, and opting for foods that are nutrient dense but without added calories. Have healthy snack foods readily available and discourage drinks that are high in sugar or calories. Regularly scheduled mealtimes and limiting fast foods/eating out can be good for the budget as well as your child’s nutrition. Making family meals a priority can promote healthy eating and happy kids. Research has shown that family meals don’t just mean better nutrition. Children of families who regularly eat together are also less likely to have behavior problems.
Many children are picky eaters, especially with vegetables. To help counter some of the resistance, parents should encourage exploration from the beginning. A broad palate from infancy will promote more willingness to tolerate different food flavors in the future. Always offer vegetables first at mealtime and don’t allow your child to snack too close to a meal; he should come to the table hungry. Don’t forget that parents are important role models for good eating habits. If children see their parents eating lots of fruits and vegetables, they are more likely to be good eaters too. Its very important not to create negative feelings at dinner time, so try to avoid “food battles”. For younger children, you can make veggies fun by creating works of vegetable art. You can make it even more fun by growing vegetables in the garden. Most children are eager to plant seeds and watch their plants grow.They are even more eager to sample them right out of the garden! As children get older, they enjoy being involved with meal planning. They can help by selecting recipes, shopping, and even preparing the meals. There are many kid-friendly recipes available. Most of all, don’t give up! Eating a variety of different colored vegetables is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Even if your child has previously resisted certain foods, assure them that their taste buds do change over time, and continue to serve them and encourage them to try.
Encouraging your child to have an active lifestyle is as important as promoting healthy eating habits. An active lifestyle does not always mean going to the gym or playing sports. Children can get regular exercise from a variety of fun activities. All children should have at least 1 hour of age-appropriate physical activity each day. You can work activity into their daily routine with things like walking to school or walking the dog. They can get plenty of exercise playing at the park or even with chores like sweeping and raking leaves. Many children also choose to participate in organized sports, which have the benefit of being on a regular schedule and usually involve kids their own age, both of which can be good motivators. Family activities are often the most fun, and benefit the whole family, such as hiking or biking, or games such as tag or hula hoop. And don’t forget that avoiding sedentary activities always means more moving. Limiting “screen time” to 1-2 hours a day is another important aspect of encouraging movement in your child.
As your children get older and buiser, let them know that exercise needs to be a priority just like school, work, homework, spiritual activities, and instrumental/vocal practices. Let’s face it, allowing exercise to fall off the priority list is easy. When it comes to exercise, try to model good behavior. If your children see you make time to exercise, they will see it as normal and expected behavior.