We all instinctively know from birth that food is essential to our own survival. Studies show that a nutritious diet will make your child healthier and better able to learn.
Children can be picky eaters. For many parents, picturing a toddler stubbornly throwing a piece of carrot to the floor is easy – after all, it’s an all too familiar scene. However tiring it might be, it’s important that you find ways to convince your child to eat that piece of vegetable, as studies show that having a balanced and nutritious diet directly impacts all aspects of a child’s growth and development.
Why is Nutrition so Important for Children?
The relationship between nutrition, health and learning is undeniably strong: Nutrition is one of the three major factors that impact a child’s development. As genes and environment are the other two factors, eating a certain food cannot guarantee that your child will be smarter, although my mother did successfully teach (trick?) me to eat fish when I was little for that very reason. Nevertheless, research studies show that nutrition in a child’s early years is linked to their health and academic performance in later years.
Healthful eating involves consuming a variety of whole and nutritious foods. By incorporating foods from the different food groups into every meal, children should have a well-rounded and healthy diet. The ‘My Plate’ initiative created by The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) seeks to simplify healthy eating by presenting a dinner plate divided into different sections; with fruits and vegetables comprising half of the plate and grains and proteins comprising the other half, according to the USDA. A small circle to the right of the plate represents dairy in the diet. Foods that contain excess fats and sugars should become occasional foods, only added to the diet once in a while.
Children have important daily dietary needs to support continued growth and physical development. Foods that contain vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates and protein will provide the nutrients necessary for growth and development.
No matter what kind of healthy eating habits your child has developed, you can help shape their preferences and attitudes toward nutritious food by guiding them toward healthy eating habits. Here’s how:
Focus on companionship
When eating is about companionship, it builds positive associations between healthy food and togetherness. The relaxed conversation also de-emphasizes who eats how much of what. Children who eat family meals regularly tend to have better dietary behaviour as teens. And family discussions also boost brainpower.
Offer fruits and veggies for the first course
This is one way to take advantage of hunger to develop lean eating habits. Fruits and veggies are brimming with nutrients but low in calories, so the first course of produce makes sense. Plus, studies show that this method spurs children to eat more veggies during the meal as well. Try offering different fruits and veggies while you’re cooking, or whenever appetite hits. Liven it up on occasion with a variety of dips and spreads.
Don’t Stress about the Amount of Food your child Eats
He may polish off everything on his plate one day and then eat two peas and declare that he’s done the next. This is perfectly normal behaviour for a growing toddler. Make sure you don’t make him feel bad for not finishing everything on his plate. They actually do eat well when they are hungry. Start by offering smaller portions (you can always give him seconds if he finishes) it makes them feel good about eating all that there is on the plate.
Encourage Smart Snacking
Even if your child is served a favourite dish for dinner, he may not eat it if he’s snacked too close to mealtime and isn’t hungry. Don’t let him snack at least an hour before dinner. For an anytime snack if he does need to have something, make it as healthy and light as possible—say, baby carrots, nuts, or apple slices.
Don’t Ban Junk Food
This doesn’t mean allowing your toddler to eat a candy bar a day. Limiting processed food that’s high in sugar and calories is a good idea. But if you try to forbid so much as a lollipop in your home, your child is more likely to gobble up all the sugar he can find at a friend’s house. A better way to handle sugary snacks is to let him have a piece of candy or chocolate once in a while, and if he requests for something sweet every day, try to steer him toward healthy snacks such as dates, raisins or fruit.
Innovate ideas and presentation of each meal’s food arrangement. Create a different look and make it interesting for the children. Cut Sandwiches, Fruit, Vegetables into Fun Shapes, make funny faces on their plate using different fruits and vegetables.
Go Food Shopping With Kids to Teach Them How to Make Healthy Eating Choices
To show your child healthy eating choices, fill your cart with fresh produce and cut down on processed foods. Make a game out of picking different colours of fruits and vegetables. Think about dishes you can make together, using different colours.
Growing your own Kitchen Garden
If you have the space for a bit of edible garden, put your child in charge of at least one plant. A child is much more likely to eat a home-grown crop, especially after tucking peas in the ground and watching the seedlings emerge, grow, and flower. If you don’t have room for a garden, start a jar of sprouts on the counter.
Look forward to cooking
Watch food shows together. Develop an archive of cooking videos that inspire you, and consider filming your own cooking videos. Page through food magazines to find recipes you’d both like to try. You could create your own “Cookbook” with some healthy snack/meal recipes for children. Tried, tested and tasted by your own. Encourage them to help you in the kitchen, no matter how small a job they can do. You’ll be glad you stimulated culinary habits early when your toddler grows into a teen who can skilfully whip up a delicious dinner for the whole family.
Set a Good Example
If you ban your child from drinking sweet drinks and then guzzle down a Coke over dinner, it sends a mixed message. Examine your own attitude toward food (do you try healthy recipes or eat fatty foods and then express remorse and worry about your own weight?). If you are willing to find new ways to get creative with healthy choices, your toddler will be more likely to follow in your footsteps.