Does your toddler hate all foods except for chicken nuggets, PB & J, and mac & cheese? Picky eaters can make you feel like you’re losing your mind, but don’t give up. The battle to establish good eating habits pays off with improved physical health, a lower risk of obesity, and better concentration in school.
”Give the child a wide variety of healthy food options and let her choose which and how much to eat,” said Paula Peters, an associate professor of human nutrition and assistant extension director for family and consumer sciences at Kansas State University. “A child may start by eating nothing or eating too much, but she has an innate ability to know when she’s hungry and when she’s full.”
Children learn about new foods at a time when they are exploring the world around them. Making your child feel empowered will encourage good food choices. Aim to offer a wide selection of nutrient dense — not calorie dense — foods. Fruits and veggies are a much better snack choice than cookies or crackers. A glass of 100% fruit juice is a better choice than soda, even though both contain the same number of calories.
Empty calories should be avoided at all costs. The Centers for Disease Control reports that empty calories from foods high in added sugars, such as ice cream, cookies, candy, fruit drinks and some breakfast cereals as well as solid fats such as donuts, pastries, hot dogs, sausages, bacon, and regular ground beef, contribute to 40 percent of daily calories for children and adolescents ages 2 to 18 years.
Children learn by example, so be mindful of your own eating habits as well. Make an effort to eat a balanced diet, to limit screen time that encourages mindless snacking, and avoid using food as a reward for good behavior or other achievements.