Registered dietician Kim Milano shares 6 easy steps to help parents instil healthy eating habits in their children.
Is your child a healthy eater?
Just like learning to walk or tying shoes, children need help to learn to eat well. By following these 6 steps, you can help your child adopt good eating habits.
As you begin implementing these steps, remember that every child is different and that you know your child best. It may take 10 to 15 times of offering or introducing a new food to your child before he or she might try it. Stay patient and positive, as this process will help your child become a healthy eater.
Step 1: Manage mealtime Establish set meal and snack times to help your child understand hunger and fullness.
Look out for those hunger signals!
Step 2: Learn to understand your child’s hunger signals As you set meal times, pay attention to your child’s signs of being full or hungry. Ask yourself:
If you can’t answer these questions, pay attention to how your child behaves around meals for a week. Do remember that all children are different, so it may take a shorter or longer time to understand your child’s hunger signals.
Feed your child when she shows signs of hunger and end meals when she shows signs of being full. Don’t try to force meals. Instead, you may need to adjust meal times if your child is consistently hungry before the time you set to eat. (See Step 1 for tips on setting mealtimes)
Step 3: Choose healthy foods Make the right foods available by taking these into consideration:
MEALTIME CHECK-IN Check the following options based on your family’s lifestyle:
- Mealtime is working based on my family’s schedule - We have added in healthy or new food options into mealtime
If not, reassess and repeat steps 1 through 3.
Get your kids to eat at the family table
Step 4: Create the “Family Table” Start as soon as your child begins eating solid foods.
What’s your feeding style?
Step 5: Learn what kind of feeding style you have Ask yourself:
If you answered “yes” to the first two questions, then it is important to understand what feeding practices you use in response to your concerns about eating. Put a check across the letter for each feeding practice you use with your child. (C) I often nag my child to eat more of a specific food. (C) I frequently force my child take at least a bite of food. (R) I sit and eat with my child. (I) I only give my child foods I know he or she likes. (I) Whenever my child asks for something to eat, I give it to her or him. (P) I sometimes forget to give my child meals. (C) I give my child dessert if he or she eats a good meal. (P) I let my child choose his or her own meals. (R) I don’t let my child eat in between set meals and snack time. (I) I prepare special foods for my child when he or she doesn’t like what is on the menu. (R) I serve healthy foods and let my child choose what he or she wants to eat. (C) I take away my child’s plate if he or she is eating too much. (P) My child can eat whenever he or she wants. (R) I don’t force my child to eat when he or she is not hungry. (I) When my child starts crying at the table, I give him or her something else to eat. (P) I don’t really know or care what my child eats. Count the number of check marks of each letter you have made. The largest number of feeding practices you marked with the same letter gives you an idea which feeding style you tend to use: (P) = Passive feeding style (C) = Controlling feeding style (I) = Indulgent feeding style (R) = Responsive feeding style
Step 6: Consistently offer new foods
Parents should also work with all caregivers (e.g. babysitters and grandparents) who are involved in mealtimes. Be sure to observe their interactions and attitude during meals, and work collaboratively to ensure that everyone is following the same steps and guidelines.
About the author Kim Milano is a nutritional consultant from Fort Jackson, South Carolina. She obtained her Master of Science degree from the University of Kansas, where she also completed her internship.