Picky eater. This is a common term used to describe almost every toddler. Although picky eating can be a normal part of development, it can also lead to unhealthy habits. It’s never too early to start dietary practices that will lead to healthy eating habits. Breaking poor eating habits is often more difficult. Here are 5 tips to create healthy eating habits in children and toddlers.
- Early exposure is key! – It’s never too early to start. Most adults and older children don’t eat enough vegetables, and don’t like them! This may be due to limited exposure to different textures and flavors early in childhood. In fact, the foods you eat as a child are often the foods you eat as an adult. . So including veggies early and often is one way to create healthy eating habits in children.
- Do not be discouraged. – Food fights, food refusal, and food jags are all normal developmental stages for children. The key is to prepare. When your child refuses to eat a certain veggie, do not give up. Continued exposure is key. Sometimes it takes upward of 20 exposures to a food before a toddler will eat it. Try offering different versions of vegetables or pairing them with your child’s favorites.
- Avoid “kid-friendly” foods. – Chicken nuggets, french fries, fish sticks, and applesauce. These are common foods found at grocery stores, schools, daycares, and restaurants. They have one thing in common – very high fat and/or sugar content and very little nutritional value. And children love them! But these foods do not encourage children to develop healthy habits or eat balanced meals. It is tempting for parents to give in and let their children have these foods to avoid a battle. But, if we expect children to grow into adults who eat healthy, balanced meals, we have to set those expectations early. At restaurants, instead of ordering off of the “kids menu”, try ordering a regular entree instead. A 2-year-old who gets used to eating french fries and chicken nuggets is not going to transform into a 7-year-old who enjoys their vegetables without setting that expectation from an early age.
- Encourage participation and exploration. – Children are by nature very curious and eager to learn. They experience everything through all 5 of their senses. That goes for food too!. Allow your child to experience everything that goes into making their meals. From gardening to grocery shopping, let your child see, feel, and smell the ingredients. By allowing children to take part in the meal preparation process, they are more likely to want to taste the food that is put in front of them.
- Model Good Behavior – One of the most important ways to ensure your children develop good habits around eating is to model them as a parent. The days of “Do as I say and not as I do” are over. If you want to encourage good habits in your children, you must model them yourself. That means if you do not want your children to eat junk food, you cannot eat junk food. Eat together as a family and eat a variety of healthy food. Work on your diet first and your children will begin to model the same behavior.
Creating healthy eating habits is definitely not an easy task, but it is possible by being
intentional about your actions. Being consistent, setting boundaries, and demonstrating good behaviors are key. Embrace these 3 tenets in your household and see how your children’s behaviors may change.