Families play an important role when it comes to food and eating. Families not only provide food for children, but they lay the groundwork for a child’s future eating patterns. Parents and siblings can be positive role models when they eat a variety of foods.
Forcing children to eat foods or to clean their plates can lead to power struggles and sometimes eating disorders or weight issues. In fact, eating disorders, excessive dieting among teens and overweight/obesity are increasing.
Children, like adults, need to learn how to recognize when they’re hungry and when they’re full.
Try these tips to help guide children to healthy eating habits for a lifetime.
Encourage children to help select and prepare food. At the grocery store, consider having the child help choose foods, such as a different type or form of vegetable. In the kitchen, find age-appropriate tasks. For example, a young child could wash fruits and vegetables or help set the table.
Let children plant their own vegetable patch in the garden. A child who helps grow vegetables is more likely to eat them.
Keep a routine. Serve meals and snacks at a consistent time.
Forget the clean plate club, even if you grew up with the tradition. Encourage children to slow down their eating at the dinner table and recognize when they’re full.
Turn off the TV and don’t answer the phone during meals. Keep mealtimes a pleasant time to catch up with each other.
Be patient when offering new foods. Many children are “neophobic” (afraid of new things) when it comes to trying novel foods. Research shows that it may take seven to 15 exposures to a food before a child will accept it.
Offer only one new food at a time, along with foods your child likes.
Be a good role model. Studies have shown that if a teacher talks enthusiastically about foods and eats them with children, the child is more likely to eat them. The same theory applies at home. If you pass the broccoli without taking a scoop, most times, your child will skip the veggies, too.
– Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, L. R. D., is a North Dakota
State University Extension Service food and nutrition
specialist and associate professor in the department of health,
nutrition and exercise sciences.