Teaching Your Kids to Choose Good Foods
The struggle to develop good eating habits among toddlers, preschoolers and older children seems never-ending.
But encouraging children to eat right doesn't require battle, just some common sense.
"What you want to do is prevent bad nutrition, rather than try to change it once it's ingrained," says Joel Steinberg, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas and supervisor of a weight-guidance clinic at the school.
If reports about an increase in obese children aren't enough to make you think twice before buying fast food, your child's future health might have you running to the supermarket for carrot sticks and lean meats.
Dr. Steinberg cites a study in Louisiana that followed children who ate a high-fat diet. Some did become overweight, but those who didn't were still in trouble.
"When a couple of the kids in their late teens and early 20s died from accidents, doctors found early signs of arthrosclerosis, hardening of the arteries, in the autopsy," he says.
Steps to take
It's up to parents, Dr. Steinberg says, to ensure that today's children don't turn into tomorrow's artery-clogged, diabetic, obese adults.
And parents can start as soon as infants are ready for solid food, such as beans, peas and carrots, in baby-food form.
"When you move to table foods, offer those same foods -- and don't doctor them up with ketchup, butter, salt or cheese," he says.
All is not lost if a preschooler or grade-schooler has already had a taste of chicken nuggets and won't eat a baked chicken breast as a result. Dr. Steinberg advises parents to place healthy foods on children's plates during mealtimes anyway.
"Don't force them to eat the food," he adds. "Even if they don't eat it right away, they're curious and will eventually try it."
Also resist the temptation to prepare separate meals for children.
"Everyone eats the same, or they don't eat," says Dr. Steinberg. "In other words, if your 6-year-old doesn't eat his vegetables, he doesn't get a bowl of cereal later on."
Do as I do
You should also look at your own diet if you want your children to be healthy eaters. Kids follow their parents' lead. It's not fair, for example, to tell them they need to eat vegetables while you chow down on a pizza. If you eat a well-balanced diet, your kids also are likely to eat well.
Encouraging healthy eating means more than serving healthy foods -- it means lifestyle changes as well. Dr. Steinberg recommends that all meals, including snacks, be eaten at the table with the television off.
The television -- and computer -- should be kept off at other times during the day as well, in order to encourage a less sedentary lifestyle.
"It's amazing," says Steinberg. "People walk their dogs every day, but they don't walk with their children every day."
So next time Fido is leashed up, take the children, too.
Dr. Steinberg acknowledges that adults have little influence over children's eating habits once the youngsters reach middle school.
"But if you bring them up in a home where they eat the right food, their diets tend to be easier to maintain and they tend to make the right choices," he says.
March 21, 2017
Godsey, Cynthia M.S., M.S.N., APRN,Lambert, J.G. M.D.,Laura FiveashLaura Fiveash DrPH MPH RD