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Creating Positive Mealtime Habits

by Dr. Susan Canizares | May 9, 2018

Routines for ChildrenChildhood obesity is now the number one health concern among parents in the United States. It affects about 12.7 million children and adolescents. But eating healthy can be a challenge, especially if your child is a picky eater! It is important to create positive mealtime habits now so that your child can make healthier choices in the future.

There are many ways to help your child develop healthy eating habits:

Make it easy for your child to make healthy food and snack choices. Limit their availability to snacks that don’t have valuable nutrients, such as chips, candy, and fruit-flavored drinks. Keep fruits where they are easily accessible, and acknowledge your child when they make a healthy snack choice. If your child requests an unhealthy food, redirect them by offering a healthier choice.

  • If your child asks for candy, suggest apples and peanut butter with a few chocolate chips, or strawberries with a bit of chocolate dipping sauce.
  • Provide Greek yogurt with honey and fruit instead of the yogurt aimed at children, which tends to be full of sugar.
  • Serve water with meals instead of milk.
  • Offer 100% whole grain breads, cereals, and crackers.

Don’t use food as a reward. Many times parents try to persuade their children to eat dinner by offering dessert as a prize. This is confusing to children. The message is that the healthy foods are less appealing and that dessert is more important because it is used as a prize.

Include vegetables in every meal. There are ways to include vegetables into foods that most children like anyway.

  • Smoothies are a great way to hide spinach, kale, carrots, or beets.
  • Shredded onions, peppers, zucchini, or carrots can be mixed in dishes made with ground meat.
  • Mix mashed cauliflower in with your potatoes.
  • Zucchini bread and pumpkin muffins are delicious and can be a healthier alternative.
  • Add pureed carrots or spinach to spaghetti sauce.
  • Put some extra frozen vegetables into canned soup.

Be mindful of the amount of food you serve at each meal. Remember that eating healthy doesn’t just refer to the type of foods you eat, but the amount, as well. Many people in this country do not know appropriate portion sizes. Understanding and changing to healthier portion sizes may take time for both children and adults to adjust.

Avoid food battles whenever you can. The best way to avoid battles is to engage your child in preparing and choosing food.

  • Invite your child to help out in the kitchen as you prepare meals, and talk about the foods as you work together.
  • When possible, allow your child to choose a part of the meal. For example, ask if they would prefer cauliflower or broccoli.
  • And don’t forget to make eating fun. Use cookie cutters to make shapes out of food. Refer to broccoli as “little trees.” And name your foods! Who wouldn’t love to eat “Carl the Carrot” or “Sebastian the Sweet Potato”?

And of course, as always, the most important thing you can do for a finicky eater is to model healthy eating. When the whole family learns to make good food choices together, the result is an enduring lifestyle change that results in happier, healthier families. It may take time, but patience is key.