Are your children eating too much, or too little? Here are some parenting tips for how to get them to eat the right foods.
One of the most common parental dilemmas, particularly for new parents, is how to get their child to eat a healthy, balanced diet. What most parents don’t realize is that young children are perfectly capable of regulating their own food intake. They instinctively know when they are hungry and when they have had enough. The parent’s responsibility is to ensure that the refrigerator and cupboards are stocked with nutritious foods, offer the child a variety of healthy choices, serve it creatively and model healthy eating habits. It’s up to the child to choose what they want to eat or if they want to eat at all.
Toddlers and preschool children are notoriously fussy eaters who are just as likely to play with their food as eat it. Their eating habits are erratic; their appetites and tastes constantly changing. They may eat almost nothing one day and then eat very well the next day or they may only be willing to eat one type of food for several days running. There is no need to panic as this is part of their normal development.
By the time a child is a year old, they have usually tripled their birth weight, but after this period of rapid growth, they begin to gain weight more slowly and consequently need less food. They are very active and usually don’t like to sit still for long, even for meals. They are also just beginning to establish their independence and part of that is refusing to eat foods that you offer. None of this will harm them, because they will still eat when they are hungry. Here are some tips to get them to eat the right foods.
- Children learn by example. Parents can be positive role models by eating a healthy, balanced diet themselves.
- You control the food that comes into your home and what types of foods your young child is exposed to. Children who are exposed to healthy, nutritious foods eventually develop a preference for it; something that will stay with them in later years.
- Young children like to graze. Since they are naturally inclined to eat when they are hungry, have healthy snacks pre-prepared and easily assessable so that when your child gets the urge, there is always something nutritious handy.
- Make food fun and interesting. Cut vegetables and fruit into bite sized portions in a variety of interesting shapes. Foods like sandwiches and pancakes can be cut with cookie cutters and even decorated. What the food looks like will often make a difference in whether the child will eat it or not.
- If your child prefers to drink rather that eat, a smoothie can provide them with excellent nutrition. You can add extra nutrients to a basic milk and fruit smoothie with yogurt, egg powder, wheat germ, honey etc.
- Keep your child’s portion sizes small. A child’s stomach is only about the size of their fist. For instance, although a child should ideally consume three to five servings of vegetables a day, a serving size is only one tablespoon for each year of their age.
- If you have a child who won’t eat vegetables, you can hide grated or finely diced vegetables in their favorite foods. They’ll never notice the cauliflower in their macaroni and cheese, or the carrot in their muffin.
Above all else, don’t micro-manage your child’s food intake. If you try to overrule their natural internal hunger and satiety cues, it will only make the eating problems worse. Children can establish an unhealthy relationship with food when they are forced to eat, food is used as a reward, or their food intake is restricted. An unhealthy relationship with food is at the root of both childhood and adult eating disorders.