Cultivating Healthy Eating Habits

What we’ve learned from ongoing nationwide efforts to reduce childhood obesity (and all the other health issues that come along for the ride), is that early prevention is easier than intervention once the unhealthy habits are in place. Parents can begin cultivating healthy eating habits in their children right from the cradle. Establishing a few key practices right from the cradle can help set your child up for a lifetime of healthy eating.

The first tip starts with the first food: babymilk. Breastfeeding exclusively for at least 3-4 months, though 6 is better, has multiple heath and development benefits, but also turns out to be protective against obesity. Experts at the national Centers for Disease Control tell us that exclusive breastfeeding for at least 3 months could prevent up to 20% of all obesity!

The second powerful tip is a little counterintuitive, but very effective. When you start introducing solid foods, and from then on, maintain a neutral attitude at the table. When you offer foods, don’t label them as bad, good, or even “healthy”. Just present it in a relaxed way, without any special attention on it, even if it’s something brand new and unfamiliar. What we’ve learned from the research is that, whatever you say about the food, your child is likely to do the opposite! “This is good for me? I don’t like it!”

A natural extension of this practice of neutrality is that we don’t want to force or bribe our kids to clean their plate if they aren’t hungry. Forcing might actually cause your child to eat less. Also, don’t use food as a reward or a punishment, especially the super-sweet or super salty junky stuff.

You’re in charge of the foods you offer your child, so give them only healthy, high quality choices, and keep the unhealthy competitive foods (all the junk) out of your pantry. And minimize sweet drinks – there’s no nutritional reason to offer them ever – and soda has actually been cited as one of the major contributors to childhood obesity. If you want to offer a little juice, water it way down: 1 part juice to 4 parts water. Drinking or snacking on sweets all day long keeps children from ever getting a true hunger signal.

You can offer healthy sweet foods occasionally, but don’t make sweets a “reward” for eating other types of foods. A good idea is to let go of the idea of “treats” altogether and just integrate healthy, balanced sweets into the meal itself – put it right on the plate with the chicken and veggies.

Published on: December 28, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Jeannette and Tracee

Together, Bessinger and Brenner are the Real Food Moms, dedicated to educating parents about family nutrition and whole foods cooking. They have co-authored two comprehensive and practical guides for family nutrition.

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