Is your child getting everything he or she needs to grow strong? Good nutrition helps your child’s development, prevents illness, encourages a healthy attitude toward food and helps in maintaining a healthy weight for life. Here’s what you need to know about creating healthy eating habits in the first 5 years and beyond:
Ages 0–1: The earliest nutrition makes a difference. Studies show the senses of smell and taste develop before birth, and healthy foods expectant and nursing mothers eat influence a baby’s tastes later. Additionally, if a child eats vegetables and fruits in the first year, they are much more likely to develop a lifelong taste for them — and lower risk of being overweight. First 5 LA and the Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first few months of life, then slowly introducing solid foods at around 6 months. If your child doesn’t like a vegetable or fruit to start, keep trying with it. To make sure your infant is getting enough to eat, use growth and weight gain as a guide; discuss concerns with your baby’s pediatrician. To build healthy habits, avoid feeding your child beverages and foods that contain refined sugar, like juice or sweet baked goods. Refer to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines found at aap.org for more nutritional information.
Ages 1–3: Toddlers can be very picky, but tastes change quickly. If your little one rejects a food, keep trying because they may suddenly love it. Offer a variety of finger foods — toddlers love to pick up and eat things on their own. Include protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains in meals, and make sure they are well blended or chopped to avoid choking. (Never feed toddlers marshmallows, jelly beans, popcorn, whole nuts or other foods that can block small windpipes; chunks of sticky peanut butter and raw fruits and vegetables can also pose a choking risk.) If a child is growing well, don’t focus on the amount they eat, since children go through periods of rapid growth and may need more or less at different times. (For more tips on healthy eating, visit First5LA.org/parenting/nutrition/). Never force a child to eat, and avoid battles at mealtimes — they rarely help change behavior. Remember healthy eating is a learning process, and be sure to offer at least one healthy thing your child likes to continue to help build healthy eating habits. Work to build your child’s healthy relationship with food by offering “treats” that aren’t edible, such as a special trip to the park, getting to watch a cartoon or reading an extra book at bedtime.
Ages 4–5: Preschoolers love to help, and cooking healthy meals together teaches your child good nutrition, along with early math and fine motor skills through measuring and mixing. With your child, check out MyPlate, which offers easy guidelines for healthy eating and makes planning for meals fun. (Visit First5LA.org/parenting/articles/portion-control and ChooseMyPlate.gov) Offer fresh snacks, such as cut-up veggies and fruits with dips to help avoid hunger and sugar or junk food binges. Encourage activity (at least 60 minutes per day) and start with smaller portions at meals. (If children are still hungry, they can have more but this helps prevent overeating.) While fast food (or fried, sugar-heavy, or bread-based foods) is okay once in a while, model healthy eating — and help your whole family — make healthier choices by opting for fresh, less processed meals at home. Continue to build healthy habits by avoiding using food as a reward, sharing the benefits of good nutrition rather than “good” or “bad” foods, and focusing on “strong” over “skinny” as an ideal.
Heavy’s REALLY Not Healthy.
More than one-third of children are overweight or obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obese children are more likely to have serious health risks that continue into adulthood, including high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, issues with breathing and joint pain, and social or psychological problems, including low self-esteem. Combatting early obesity with conscious, healthy eating and lifestyle helps your child’s health — for life!
Read Your Granola Bar! All “healthy” food is not created equal. In fact, some granola bars marketed as wholesome snacks are closer in nutritional value as candy bars! Reading labels to determine sugar, fat and caloric content can help you become a smart consumer — and stay on track for wellness.
And you can always make your own bars, adding healthy ingredients. It’s also a fun activity to do with kids! Check out this super easy-to-do recipe: No-Bake Whole Grain Chewy Bars