As I have shared before, I am a mom to Anjolie who will soon be leaving toddlerhood and becoming a preschooler—yikes! I often think about how I will prepare her for this next stage.
I have always tried to instill healthy habits and a positive relationship with food.
So I guess the bigger question for me is, what or how do I build upon this healthy relationship and continue to implement good habits throughout her growth into a young adult?
Being a parent is tough enough without having to struggle to get your kids to eat right.
As parents, we are always questioning if we are doing the right thing for our kids. Just recently, Anjolie will say to me, “Mamma, may I have a tweat (aka treat)?”
I say, “Sure, would you like an apple or orange?”
She may reply, “I want a lollipop.”
In this case, I kind of brush it off (sigh) and respond, “We don’t have any lollipops, but we do have apples and oranges, which would you like?”
What happens next amazes me, and I give myself a high-five (in my mind, of course). She says, “OK, I will have an orange.” The whole notion of a “tweat” goes away or the fruit becomes the treat. We discuss how the food is good for her and maybe even how it helps the body. She repeats that to me and gets very excited at the notion she can control becoming a big girl one day. And yes, she does get lollipops on occasion.
In the end, you have to decide what realistically works best for you and your family.
Here are some practices to strive for whether you are dealing with a three or twelve year old. I try to stick to these when feeding Anjolie. Even when I want to bust out with, “if you eat your dinner, I will give you some ice cream,” I bite my lip to refrain from the temptation.
Be consistent with the messages you give your children.
Follow a schedule that provides breakfast, lunch, and dinner with planned snacks if needed, rather than grazing all day long. Continuous snacking does not allow for natural hunger cues to dictate eating habits and instead creates bad habits, overeating, and promotes obesity long-term.
Offer your kids all kinds of foods.
Introduce new foods to their diet early in life and as often as you can. Prepare foods from all the food groups so that they are available to your children to taste. They may not choose them the first time, but perhaps the second or third. Don’t give up or get discouraged. Keep offering healthy options like whole grains, lean proteins, plant proteins, vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy. Have them try whole, real foods like lentils, pomegranates, beets, cauliflower, quinoa, and whole grains. For example, I offered my daughter legumes, whole grains, vegetables and fish as soon as we introduced her to solid foods. She developed a palate for these foods and now has grown a preference for them.
It all starts from you.
You are the example. Kids do what they see and hear. Think of yourself and how much your parents or the household you grew up in influenced your practices. So if you are sitting on the couch eating cheese puffs while telling your kids to sit at the table to eat their Brussels sprouts, which behavior do you think they will choose? Be a role model.
Create an environment that fosters a healthy food relationship and good eating habits.
How do you do this?
- Make kids part of the decision-making process about meals.
- Eat together as a family.
- Talk about what nutritious foods and healthy living do for our bodies.
- Never fight about food.
- Don’t use food as a reward.
- Lay out your kitchen to promote healthier eating.
It is a lot of work.
You may be thinking, This is just too much work. How can I do this among the million other tasks I have to do every day? Well, you are right, it is a lot of work, but anything with any value in life is. Let your priorities in your life guide you. You are creating behaviors and preferences that will last a lifetime, impacting the health and well-being of you and your family well into adulthood and beyond. So you decide.
If you need some guides, go to www.choosemyplate.org/kids to help you with portion sizes and calorie needs. Be mindful of what a portion is, especially for a small child, and do not place the same expectation as you would for an adult. In addition, calorie needs depend on energy expenditure, so keep your kids active every day. The more active they are in daily life, the more calories they will need. The site has great tip sheets, activities, and guides for families, and even has online tracking tools to adapt to a healthy eating style. In addition, for more detailed information on portions for toddlers and preschoolers, go into my blog archives.
Lela Iliopoulos is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and an expert in nutrition therapy, health promotion, and education. She is passionate about impacting nutritional health through the practical application of science-based information