Mealtime with kids can be stressful, especially as a parent concerned about nutrition and establishing good eating habits. The limited amount of time for preparation and the inevitable timing of your child being hungry before dinner is on the table only adds to the pressure.
Don’t let the stress get to you or cause you to give in to unhealthy choices. These doctor-approved tips can help you create healthy eating habits for your kid at every stage of childhood.
Toddler (ages 1 — 3)
It’s important to keep in mind that children this age are undergoing developmental changes. They are striving for independence and control so providing limits while empowering your toddler will ease power struggles over mealtime choices.
♦ Toddlers are often hesitant to try new foods so it’s important to be flexible. Don’t make it a big deal if the food is rejected. Give it a few days or weeks and try again.
♦ Like all ages, portion sizes should always be a consideration. A toddler portion should be about one-fourth the size of what an adult would eat.
♦ While juices may seem easy, whole fruits should always be encouraged.
♦ Make dessert a part of the meal, rather than treating it as a reward.
Preschool (ages 3 — 5)
Kids at this age are still developing their eating habits and need encouragement to eat healthy meals and snacks. Because children will often imitate eating behaviors of adults, a good practice is to make healthy food choices for them to mimic. They might surprise you by wanting to join in with your healthy meal or snack.
♦ Don’t give up on offering a variety of foods. Trust that, eventually, your child will learn enjoy all foods.
♦ Don’t put pressure on your child to eat. The notion of always having to “clean your plate” could lead to eating beyond the point of being full, resulting in childhood obesity.
♦ This is a good age to begin limiting snack times. Fewer snacks will help your child be hungrier at meal time.
School-age Children (ages 6 — 12)
At this age, children have a consistent but slow rate of growth and usually eat four to five times a day (including snacks). Many food habits, likes and dislikes are established during this time. Family, friends and the media (especially TV) influence food choices and eating habits.
School-age children are often willing to eat a wider variety of foods than their younger siblings. Eating healthy after-school snacks is important, too, as these snacks may contribute up to one-fourth of the total calorie intake for the day. School-age children have developed more advanced feeding skills and are able to help with meal preparation.
Always serve breakfast, even if it has to be on the go. Some ideas for a quick, healthy breakfast include:
♦ Bagel or toast with cheese or peanut butter
Take advantage of big appetites after school by serving healthy snacks, such as:
♦ Vegetables and dip
♦ Turkey or chicken sandwich
♦ Cheese and crackers
♦ Milk and cereal
Tifani Kinard is the Hospital Administrator and Chief Nursing Officer of Floyd Polk Medical Center.