7 Nutritionist-Approved Tips for Promoting Healthy Eating Habits
April 25, 2018
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oung children can be the most determined group of people when it comes to food and choosing what they will eat or what they simply refuse to eat. Introducing children to solid foods can be fun, but as the toddler years approach, they can become more decisive about their individual food preferences. Following national nutritional standards by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for early childhood may be a parent’s ideal, but young children can make it challenging when they refuse to eat certain foods. Let’s be honest, most of parents and early educators have tried many different approaches to get children to eat their meals – so let’s talk about what works.
If you’ve ever sang a song, made funny face, or tried a trick to help get your toddler to eat, you’ll enjoy reading this blog.
We brought in some reinforcements in the form of nutritional expertise to provide a more clear understanding on why young children react adversely to food and how adults can help to guide them while ensuring a healthy nutrition.
Dr. Daisy Miller, Ph.D., LDN, a behavioral pediatric nutritionist in Maryland shares some tips with us on how to best approach nutritional practices with children in the infant-toddler years. “The most important thing to know about introducing young children to new foods is to take a no-pressure approach. Picky eating is normal. Many kids say ‘no’ to new foods because something in their unconscious mind says so,” she says.
Dr. Miller suggests trying the following hands-on approaches:
1. Start small – Use gentle encouragement to take bites of new foods and eat the variety of foods provided for them. Note, being interested in one or two food items at a time is normal.
2. Make it enjoyable – The key ideas are keeping food introduction gentle, fun, exploratory, and not too emotionally charged.
3. Pay attention to cues – If a child is showing any resistance [to eating new foods], such as looking away and disengaging that is a good cue for the educator to stop the even gentle encouragement to eat.
4. Don’t overdo it – It’s easy for educators and parents to get very excited and offer a lot of praise to a child for trying a new food. But, it’s best to avoid praise and encouragement. Children eat food that they like, that they can handle, and feels good in their body – they don’t need an external source of approval, and in fact, it can add up to too much pressure.
5. Create a calm atmosphere – It’s important that meal and snack times are calm. Some kids are extra sensitive to smells and noise and can be easily overwhelmed in group eating environments. Playing classical or other relaxing music in the background at lunch can help.
6. Keep it real – Educators should never shame kids who are picky eaters or scare them into thinking they won’t “grow big and strong.” Statements like this can make a young child fearful and worried, which will only increase their picky eating.
7. Engage families – Educators should let parents know if their child tried a new food so the parents can follow-through and continue to offer that food to their child at home. If a child is not eating well at school, it’s very important that parents know this so that they can address the feeding issues with their Pediatrician, a pediatric dietitian, or an OT feeding specialist.
Getting an infant or toddler to eat and enjoy their meal is easier said than done, but it isn’t impossible. Using a variety of foods along with continuous practice and patience from early educators can help to build a healthy foundation for children’s lifetime eating habits. Most importantly, making meal time a fun and likeable part of a child’s day can have long-term benefits for their overall physical development – one spoonful at a time!
Daisy Miller, Ph.D., LDNhas been in private practice in Montgomery County, MD for 14 years. She is a Behavioral Pediatric Nutritionist and owner of the group practice, Dr. Daisy Miller and Associates, Rockville, MD. She enjoys helping children and their parents solve common and complex eating and feeding issues. For more information about her practice, visit www.drdaisy.com.
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