It's no surprise that parents might need some help
understanding what it means to eat healthy. From the
Food Guide Pyramid
to the latest food fad, it can be awfully confusing.
The good news is that you don't need a degree in nutrition
to raise healthy kids. Following some basic guidelines can help you
encourage your kids to eat right and maintain a healthy weight.
Here are 10 key rules to live by:
- Parents control the supply lines.
You decide which foods to buy and when to serve them. Though kids
will pester their parents for less nutritious foods, adults
should be in charge when deciding which foods are regularly
stocked in the house. Kids won't go hungry. They'll eat
what's available in the cupboard and fridge at home. If their
favorite snack isn't all that nutritious, you can still buy
it once in a while so they don't feel deprived.
- From the foods you offer, kids get to choose what they
will eat or whether to eat at all.
Kids need to have some say in the matter. From the selections you
offer, let them choose what to eat and how much of it they want.
This may seem like a little too much freedom. But if you follow
step 1, your kids will be choosing only from the foods you buy
- Quit the "clean-plate club."
Let kids stop eating when they feel they've had enough. Lots
of parents grew up under the clean-plate rule, but that approach
doesn't help kids listen to their own bodies when they feel
full. When kids notice and respond to feelings of fullness,
they're less likely to overeat.
- Start them young.
Food preferences are developed early in life, so offer variety.
Likes and dislikes begin forming even when kids are babies. You
may need to serve a new food on several different occasions for a
child to accept it. Don't force a child to eat, but offer a
few bites. With older kids, ask them to try one bite.
- Rewrite the kids' menu.
Who says kids only want to eat hot dogs, pizza, burgers, and
macaroni and cheese? When eating out, let your kids try new foods
and they might surprise you with their willingness to experiment.
You can start by letting them try a little of whatever you
ordered or ordering an appetizer for them to try.
- Drink calories count.
Soda and other sweetened drinks add extra calories and get in the
way of good nutrition. Water and milk are the best drinks for
kids. Juice is fine when it's 100%, but kids don't need
much of it - 4 to 6 ounces a day is enough for preschoolers.
- Put sweets in their place.
Occasional sweets are fine, but don't turn dessert into the
main reason for eating dinner. When dessert is the prize for
eating dinner, kids naturally place more value on the cupcake
than the broccoli. Try to stay neutral about foods.
- Food is not love.
Find better ways to say "I love you." When foods are
used to reward kids and show affection, they may start using food
to cope with stress or other emotions. Offer hugs, praise, and
attention instead of food treats.
- Kids do as you do.
Be a role model and eat healthy yourself. When trying to teach
good eating habits, try to set the best example possible. Choose
nutritious snacks, eat at the table, and don't skip
- Limit TV and computer time.
When you do, you'll avoid mindless snacking and encourage
activity. Research has shown that kids who cut down on
also reduced their percentage of body fat. When TV and computer
time are limited, they'll find more active things to do. And
limiting "screen time" means you'll have more time
to be active together.
Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: February 2009
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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