10 Tips for Encouraging

Healthy Eating

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Ten common-sense tips from experts to help you instill healthy eating habits in your child from the start.

Help your child develop good nutrition habits when she's little, and she'll be more likely to stick with them for the rest of her life. To encourage healthy eating in your preschooler, follow these tips from Joan Carter, R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and staff nutritionist with the Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, Texas.

1. Sit Down and Eat with Your Child

Try to avoid eating on the go with your preschooler. Instead, sit down at the table with your preschooler and have something nutritious to eat too, even if she's having just a small snack. This will help her to see mealtime as a pleasant, structured activity and to develop a healthy attitude toward food and eating.

2. Offer Sensible Snacks

Light, between-meal snacks are important for keeping your kids' energy levels up. Instead of cookies or candy, give preschoolers sweet-but-nutrient-rich snacks like fresh fruit, dried fruit like raisins, apricots or pineapple wedges, or a small treat of yogurt and banana slices.

3. Select a Smart Cereal

Look for a vitamin-fortified breakfast cereal that lists whole-wheat flour as its first ingredient rather than enriched or refined white flour. Nix any brands that has sugar or high fructose corn syrup as one of their top three ingredients. If your child insists on sweetened kids' cereal, mix in healthier whole-grain cereal so that he gets added fiber and nutrients. Toss in a few small pieces of fruit like bananas or berries (in season) to make it even healthier.

4. Offer Fruit Instead of Fruit Juice

Many kids fill up on juice, leaving them with little appetite come mealtime. And although some fruit juice may contain vitamins, it doesn't contain fiber, which is why whole fruit is always a better option. Offer kids one serving (3/4 cup) of juice a day, and make sure they drink plenty of water the rest of the day. Avoid sugary soda and fruit-flavored drinks. When buying juice, look for brands that say "100% juice" on the label--if they don't, they probably contain added sweeteners. An even better option? Buy a juicer and make your own! You and your child can make a game of coming up with favorite fruit blends. A sure winner? Pear and apple!

5. Learn Some Sweet Tricks

Too many sweet processed foods, such as doughnuts and cake, can ruin a child's appetite for healthier foods. However, a small amount of dietary sugar can be okay, especially if it's used to help kids get vital nutrients. If your kids don't like milk, for example, offer them small servings of pudding or plain yogurt sweetened with honey or fruit preserves to help them meet their daily calcium requirements. To make veggies more appealing, try adding a pinch of sugar to vegetables like carrots or brightly colored squash. Roasting vegetables in the oven is another way to bring out their natural sweetness that gets lost when they are boiled or steamed.

6. PickPreschooler-Appropriate Proteins

Kids between the ages of 2 and 6 need two servings of meat- or bean-based protein per day. Great choices include two to three ounces of chicken breast, lean hamburger, tuna packed in water, or one egg. Beans (a half-cup is one serving) are an excellent protein alternative to meat, as are soy-based products, like soy burgers and tofu hot dogs.

7. Stock Up on Starches

Growing kids need lots of energy to play and to learn. Carbohydrates (starches) provide fuel and form an important part of a young child's diet. Preschoolers need six servings every day of carb-rich foods, such as pasta, corn nibblets, or tortillas. When possible choose whole grains products over processed white flour products. Potatoes, while not grains, are also good sources of complex carbs--and count as a vegetable serving to boot!

8. Show Them the Store

Take your kids to the supermarket with you to pique their interest in food. As you stroll the aisles, discuss where all the different foods come from and what they do to keep us healthy. Point out the carrots, for example, and talk about how they improve eyesight. Spend plenty of time in the produce and dairy aisles so kids can get a sense of the variety of foods to be found there.

9. Dole Out Kid-Friendly Portions

Children have smaller stomachs than we do, and if you put too much food on a child's plate, she may get overwhelmed. Kids also don't need as many servings of the major food groups as adults do. Teaching portion contorl at an early age is one of the best healthy habits a parent can teach their child. To find out how much of each of the food groups your child should be eating, print and post a Portions Chart for Kids.

10. Don't Panic

Finally, if your preschooler is a fussy eater, keep in mind that most kids go through periods where they'll eat only certain foods. Continue to offer him healthy foods at each meal, but don't argue with your child about what he's eating. Try to find creative ways to get him to eat things he otherwise might not, for example, offering a dipping sauce like hummus or low-fat salad dressing for eating veggies. Eventually, he will probably outgrow his diet jags.

Important Disclaimer: The information provided in this NickJr.com health service area is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your or your child's condition. NickJr.com does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, products, procedures, opinions or other information that may be provided by sponsors or any other third parties. Please also see Terms and Conditions.