While it’s important for parents to keep an eye on how much food their child eats, here are some ways to help a child develop healthy food values and eating habits:
1. Always eat breakfast!
Studies have shown that school-aged children who eat breakfast perform better on cognitive tests than their peers who did not eat breakfast. Involve your child in deciding on breakfast options that are nutritious and kid-friendly. A high-fiber and high-protein breakfast will give your child the energy she needs to start the day. Also, this combination will help keep her blood sugar stable, preventing highs and lows so she’ll focus better during school.
2. Encourage food variety.
A balanced diet draws nutrients from the different food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, milk/dairy, and meat/beans. Incorporate a variety of foods into meals and snacks and choose fruits and vegetables in a range of colors. Teach children that candies, cookies, cake, ice cream, etc. are treats— not between-meal staples.
3. Make healthy choices convenient.
Keep grab-and-go fruits and veggie snacks front and center rather than hidden away in the fridge. Teach portion control by pre-portioning snacks or setting rules on taking proper portions rather than eating directly from original containers.
4. Empower kids to make healthy choices.
You and your child may have different food preferences, but you can still find a middle ground on foods that he enjoys and provide good nutrition. Put the benefits of healthy eating in context that a child will understand and value. For example, explain that sugary foods can leave him hungry and tired – not good for classwork, sports, or playtime with friends. Agree on healthier alternatives that help him feel satisfied and full of energy.
5. Nix the ‘clean plate’ rule.
Part of healthy eating is managing hunger. Instead of insisting that a child finish all the food on her plate, follow her cues on when she’s eaten enough. Over-policing a child at the table can undermine development of healthy esteem and food values.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a registered dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with fiber and The F-Factor Diet. Follow Tanya on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and subscribe to her free weekly weight loss newsletter.