Healthy Eating Starts Young!
What your child eats, at least for the first several years, is largely up to you. As an infant, the best nutrition for the first four to six months is breast milk or a quality infant formula. Once your baby is able to hold his head up by himself, sit in a chair and swallow, he’s ready for soft solid foods. Remember, the food eaten as an infant strongly affects his long-term health, body weight, immune system and overall aging. By introducing new and healthy foods to your child at an early age, you help them develop good eating habits that will benefit them a lifetime. Once your child can eat solids, each meal should contain a variety of foods from each of the five food groups:
Young children love routines, and if you let them, will request the same food every day or reject foods they have never tried before. But what can you do to make it less of a strain?
- Introduce one new food at a time.
- Be patient and try the food again later.
- Keep healthy food within reach.
- Let them see you eat healthy too.
- Allow them to help prepare food with you.
Research indicates it can take 12 to 13 tries of a food for a child to finally agree to eat it. If they do not like the food the first time around, don’t give up! Wait a few days and try again and again.
Below are some tips to help make meal times less of a struggle:
BIRTH TO 1
- Breast milk and infant formula are full of antibodies, antimicrobial factors, enzymes, and anti-inflammatory factors along with fatty acids. This is the nutrition your baby needs for the first six months.
- Many babies have rice cereal as their first solid food. It’s up to you whether or not to introduce cereal, vegetables or fruit first but never add cereal to your baby’s bottle. It could cause choking.
- When your baby begins eating solids, introduce a new food every three to four days to see how your baby responds. If there is any type of negative reaction, talk with your pediatrician and wait for one to three months before trying that food again.
- Soft raw foods like avocado, banana and ripe pears are great first solids to provide your baby.
- Vegetables are full of nutrients and less sweet than fruits. Steam kale or spinach and then puree it. Add some banana for sweetness. See how much your baby will love it.
AGE 1 TO 2
- Include your child in your family meal times. Children watch what and how the other people in their family eat while learning about talking and communication.
- Serve similar foods together. Cantaloupe and honeydew, broccoli and cauliflower, or steamed carrots and zucchini.
- Peer pressure can be good for young children when it comes to eating. When a child sees other children eating healthy food, she is more likely to try the same food herself.
- Let older babies and toddlers stop eating when they lose interest in their food. It means they are done!
- Young children cannot sit for long. Plan for 10–20 minutes of sitting at mealtime and 5 – 15 minutes for snack time.
AGE 2 TO 3
- While your two year old may not eat a lot, they may show more interest in food if they share meals with the family and their food is cut bite-sized.
- Toddlers love routine which is why they do well with three small meals and two snacks each day.
- Create and keep a mealtime routine. Let your child help prepare for mealtimes by setting the table with some help from an odler sibling or mom and dad.
- Teach your toddler to say “I’m all done” then to take his plate to the sink. You may want to start off with a plastic plate as spills will happen.
- Eat with your toddlers, letting them see you enjoy your meal. Help them name the foods and then describe how it tastes.
AGE 3 TO 4
- Enlist your child to help with a small garden. Growing their own food may make them more willing to eat it!
- Never force your child to eat or be part of the “clean plate club.” Forcing a child to eat makes meal times stressful and usually ends up with the child eating less.
- Include your child in dinner preparation. Let him help decide what you will serve by giving him choices. For instance, “should we have sweet potatoes or cous cous with our chicken tonight?”
- Meals are about more than just food. It’s a great time to connect with your child and find out about their day. Try to engage every child at the table to share at least one meaningful interaction.
- Picky eating can be frustrating and worrisome. But if your child is growing and playing, she’s probably fine. Be sure and talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have questions about your child’s growth.
AGE 4 TO 5
- Sugary, acidic drinks such as fruit juice can cause tooth decay if drunk frequently between meals. Limit how much juice your child gets each day. Add water to it to dilute the sugar.
- Don’t make deals or coerce your child to eat all of their food with promises of dessert. Present all food you prepare as healthy options.
- Make food appealing and fun for your child. Offer new textures, colors and tastes to see what he likes best.
- Many little ones love dipping their food. Add some condiments to the mix: carrots and ranch, fruit and yogurt, or baked chicken and ketchup.
- Wondering what some good snacks are for your preschooler? Try graham crackers, raw vegetables cut up into strips, fresh or dried fruit cut up for finger food, string cheese, yogurt, and hard bolied eggs.
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