Learning Good Eating Habits Early Leads To Lifelong Health
Children between 2 and 5 years old experience developmental changes that affect their eating habits, and by anticipating and appropriately reacting to these changes, families can help turn their preschoolers into healthy eaters for life.
According to Monica Montes, a Los Angeles-area registered dietitian and co-founder of N.E.W. Health Consultants, Inc, eating habits form as early as age 3, making the preschool years an important developmental window. At the same time, parents may face difficult changes in their children's food preferences.
"Feeding obstacles often start as children reach 2 years old and continue for several years," said Montes. "Children may eat less, demand foods they see on television, refuse foods or beverages they once enjoyed and start using utensils or sippy cups."
Montes offers the following tips so that families -- parents, grandparents and others present at mealtimes -- can prepare for these changes and respond appropriately.
-- Gradually introduce new foods one at a time, realizing that it can take up to 15 tries before the child accepts it.
-- Try to add just one new food to a meal with three or so healthy foods your child already enjoys.
-- Be sure to include new foods on your own plate .
-- Offer nutrient-rich foods from all the food groups, including low-fat milk, vegetables, whole-grains and fruits.
-- Trust your preschooler's stomach, they will naturally regulate the amount they eat.
-- Eat meals together as a family to model healthy habits.
To help families, Meals Matter, mealsmatter.org, a nutrition website developed by registered dietitians at Dairy Council of California, offers an informational series in English and Spanish specifically for families with preschool-aged children, including:
-- A chart of common eating patterns and nutritional needs at different stages of growth;
-- Downloadable tip sheets with tools for fostering healthy eating habits; and
-- Nutritious, kid-friendly recipes, such as Mexican Tostadas and Dunkin' Vegetables.
"There are many things that families can do to help children develop good eating habits, but being prepared and staying patient is key," said Montes. "By staying positive, being consistent and providing a comfortable and calm environment for your child to eat, you will be on your way to raising a healthy eater."
Meals Matter provides busy families with nutrition information, delicious recipes and a variety of interactive meal-planning tools.