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Healthy eating habits for your children

The eating habits your children learn when they are young will help them to establish a healthy weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle as adults. One of the most important approaches to eating is to cut down on fat intake. Simple ways to accomplish this include eating low-fat or non-fat dairy products, poultry without skin, lean meats, and low-fat or fat-free breads and cereals.

Children over a year old should have full fat cow's milk until they are at least two. Semi-skimmed milk can be introduced after that. Skimmed milk isn't suitable as the main drink for under-fives because it doesn't provide enough energy or vitamin A.

If you are unsure about how to select and prepare a variety of foods for your family, consult a doctor or registered dietician. It is important that you do not place your overweight child on a restrictive diet unless a doctor supervises one for medical reasons.

There are many ways of encouraging your children to develop healthy eating habits:

  • Guide your family’s choices rather than dictate foods: Make a wide variety of healthy foods available. This will help your children learn how to make healthy food choices.
  • Encourage your children to eat slowly: A child can detect hunger and fullness better when eating slowly. Make sure kids have children sized portions so they get the right amount of food for their age.
  • Eat meals together as a family as often as possible: Children learn their healthy eating habits from their parents, brothers and sisters.
  • Involve your children in food shopping and meal preparation: This will give you hints about their likes and dislikes, an opportunity to teach them about nutrition, and provide them with a feeling of accomplishment. In addition, children may be more willing to eat or try foods they help prepare.
  • Plan for snacks: Continuous snacking may lead to overeating but snacks that are planned at specific times during the day can be part of a nutritious diet without spoiling a child’s appetite at mealtimes. You should make snacks as nutritious as possible, without depriving your children of occasional crisps or biscuits, especially at parties or other social events. Fresh or dried fruit, breadsticks and unsalted nuts (for over fives because of the choking risk in younger children) are a healthier choice than biscuits and sweets.
  • Discourage eating in front of the television: Try to eat only in designated areas of your home, such as the dining room or kitchen. Eating while watching television may make it difficult to pay attention to feelings of fullness and may lead to overeating.
  • Encourage your children to choose water: Over-consumption of sweetened and fizzy drinks has been linked to increased rates of obesity in children. Change to water, semi-skimmed milk (for over twos) and diluted fresh fruit juice.
  • Try not to use food as punishment or reward: Withholding food may lead children to worry that they won’t get enough food. For example, sending children to bed without any dinner may cause them to worry that they will go hungry. As a result, children may try to eat whenever they get a chance. Similarly, when foods such as desserts are used as a reward, children may assume these foods are better or more valuable than other foods. Telling children that they’ll get ice cream if they eat all their vegetables sends the wrong message about vegetables
  • Make sure meals outside the home are balanced: Find out more about your children’s school dinners or pack their lunch to include a variety of foods. Also, select healthier items when eating at restaurants.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on March 06, 2015

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