RD, LDN, CBS
Certified in Maternal and Infant Nutrition from Cornell, Angela’s mission is to help people reach their wellness goals. She also helps run a program that teaches pregnant women about how a healthy lifestyle optimizes prenatal and postnatal care.
Good nutrition is important at every stage in your child’s development. But as they get older, the days where your once baby or tot gobbled up everything that you offered without protest or alternative requests seem long gone. As your little one grows up, external influences like other kids, teachers, busy on-the-go lifestyles, and even television shows and commercials can start to shape your child’s idea of what eating and food choices should look like. Now, more than ever, is the time to keep building upon and reinforcing a strong foundation of healthy eating for your growing child.
Good nutrition in young children has a profound influence on
their overall health and wellbeing. This includes decreasing the risks of
disease now and later in life, maintaining a healthy weight, stabilizing their
moods, and even sharpening their minds. A healthy diet also has a positive
influence on a child’s mental and emotional well-being.
The benefits don’t stop there – did you know that healthy
eating habits are more likely to stick with you if you learn them as a child?
Creating an environment where nutrient rich foods are a priority can help to
shape your child’s lifelong eating habits and preferences. Here are some ways
to optimize your growing child’s nutrition:
Offer a variety of
foods: Offer a variety of whole foods across all food groups. Choices like
fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, dairy, and healthy fats such
as avocado and nut butters offer the most bang for your buck in terms of
nutritional quality. Plus, when you vary the foods offered, your little one is
getting a better balance of the nutrients he needs to grow and develop.
Keep it stress free: As much as we want our kids to eat all of their
veggies, don’t bribe or force them. Children shouldn’t have to “clean their
plates.” Let your child listen to their body and decide when they’ve had
Establish routines: Young children thrive on routine. Offer meals
and snacks at about the same time each day.
Limit processed foods: Our lives are busier than ever and sometimes
a home cooked meal just might not be in the cards. Do your best to limit the
amount of exposure your child has to convenience type foods (think packaged
meals, sugary cereals, and snack foods.) These are havens for added salts and
sugars, while also being low in nutritional quality.
Limit fruit juice: Limit your child’s intake of fruit juice to ½
cup or less per day. Offer water liberally.
Eat together: YOU are the best role model for your child. Eating
together as a family encourages your child to be a more adventurous eater, and
sets the tone for appropriate mealtime behavior. Keep the focus on the meal; eat
at the table, turn off the TV and limit other distractions.
Remember your role: Your role as the parent is to decide WHAT to
offer to your child to eat. It is their job to decide HOW MUCH or IF they will
eat at all. Mealtimes can lead to power struggles in young children. Hold your
ground with what you are offering. You may have to endure a tantrum or two, but
this will help your child learn what is expected of him at mealtimes.
Stay active: Keeping your little one active is part of a healthy
lifestyle. A good daily dose of physical activity also encourages your child to
come to the table ready to eat.
Remember, your child’s appetite changes just as ours does! Some days they may eat more than others and that is OK – your child is the best judge of when they’ve had enough. Offering a variety of options across all the food groups is the best way to encourage an overall balanced diet.
For more on this topic, check out the following articles: