Parents and caregivers supply the three W's of meals and snacks: What foods are offered and When & Where they're eaten. The child fills in the other W and H: Which offered foods to eat and How much.
- While physical activity promotes a healthy appetite, plan a quiet time before meals and snacks. Kids eat best when they're more relaxed.
- Remember that your child learns by watching you and older siblings. Eat together as a family. Set a good example by eating a variety of foods- including vegetables- yourself. Eating together also is a good chance to talk and to practice appropriate table manners.
- Even if you can't eat together, be there! Young children need supervision in case they start to choke. Someone who's choking may not be able to make sounds you can hear easily.
- Encourage kids to sit while they eat. Give youngsters a booster seat so they can reach their food easily. Discourage eating while standing, walking, or lying down.
- Reward children with affection and attention-not food. Using food as a reward or a punishment only promotes unhealthy attitudes about food and perhaps emotional overeating.
- Respect food preferences. Give young children the freedom to choose and reject foods, just as older children and adults do. Just encourage young children to politely say "No, thank you." Making food choices is a competency children need to master.
- Avoid the notion of "forbidden" foods. That may cause your child to want them more. All foods can be part of your child's healthful eating plan.
- Serve "designer dinners," featuring a variety of colors and textures. Cut food into interesting shapes, and arrange it attractively on the plate. Kids react to inviting foods just as you do!
- Get kids involved in preparing meals. Even young children can tear apart lettuce leaves for a salad or break up green beans into smaller pieces. Children are more likely to try foods that they have helped prepare.
- Offer foods with kid appeal. Many younger children prefer unmixed foods. Foods with funny names- such as Monster Mash potatoes (mashed sweet potatoes) or Bugs on a Log (raisins and peanut butter on celery)-may help kids to try new foods. Kids often like finger foods, too. Offer raw vegetables to easily nibble in hand; be careful with foods that may cause choking.
- Encourage children to practice serving themselves- for example, pouring milk from a pitcher, spreading peanut butter on bread, or spooning food from a serving bowl to their plate. Even though spills are messy, they're part of becoming independent.
- Make eating and family time the focus of meal and snack time- not TV watching. Use this chance to talk together and reinforce their good eating habits.
- Focus on the whole meal, not just on desserts. Avoid making desserts a reward.
- Stock your kitchen with child- size dishes and utensils that children can use with ease: cups they can get their hands around; broad, straight, short handled utensils; spoons with a wide mouth; forks with blunt tines; and plates with a curved lip.
- Even in this fast- paced world, give kids enough time to eat. Remember: They're just learning to feed themselves. Time pressure puts stress on eating and takes the pleasure away.
- Toddlers and pre-schoolers live to play! Encourage a sense of fun and adventure by making family meals pleasant. Recall the day's events, share each other's company, and talk about the food: its colors, flavors, and textures.
Feeding Choosy Eaters
Does your child refuse to eat green foods? Does he or she suddenly react to an all-time favorite food with an "I don't like this," or simply "no"? Are you concerned because your youngster won't eat vegetables?
Bouts of independence are part of being a toddler or a young child. "Choosy" eating may be your child's early attempts to make decisions and be assertive- a natural part of growing up. It may reflect a smaller appetite as his or her growth rate slows a bit, too. Or "no" may really mean "I want your attention."
Relax; be patient. Arm yourself with practical solutions to handle the "downs and ups" of child feeding:
- Avoid the "short order cook" routine. At mealtime, serve at least one food you know your child likes. But expect your tot to at least try foods that the rest of the family enjoys.
- Offer choices, but not too many, rather than asking open- ended questions such as, "What do you want to eat?" Deciding between or among two or three foods gives your child a feeling of control. It's also good practice for learning to make food decisions.
- Make food simple and recognizable. "Un mix" the food if it's an issue; put aside some ingredients for mixed dishes before assembling the recipe, even a salad or a sandwich. Then let your child put food together as he or she likes.
- Involve kids. Even choosy eaters eat foods they help plan, buy, or make. Together, plan a meal around foods your child likes. When you shop, ask your child to pick a new food for the family to try. Ask for a kitchen helper; even small children can wash fresh fruit or put meat or vegetable between bread slices for a sandwich.
- Allow hot food to cool down and cold food to warm up a little before serving it. Many children dislike extreme temperatures.
- If your child won't eat certain foods, perhaps spinach, don't worry. Just offer a similar food- group food, maybe broccoli. Or try carrots. Foods from the same food group supply similar nutrients.
- Moisten dry foods such as meat if they're hard to chew. A little cheese sauce or fruit or vegetable juice might help. Serve drier foods alongside naturally moist foods such as mashed potatoes or cottage cheese. Or offer "dipping" sauces with finger foods- kids love to dip!
- Trust your child's appetite. Forcing children to eat can start a lifelong habit of overeating. Instead, following hunger and satiety cues is part of learning to eat the right amount.
- Limit table time. Sitting at the table without eating for a long time doesn't teach good food habits. At the end of mealtime, quietly remove the plate.
- Most of all, relax. And be a good role model (eat your veggies, drink your milk) yourself.
- Avoid conflict and criticism at mealtime; otherwise your child may use food for "table control." Focus your attention on the positives in your child's eating behavior, not on your child's food. And unless you're prepared for a self-fulfilling prophecy, skip labeling your child as a "picky eater."
- Remember: What your child eats over several days- not just one meal- is what really counts!
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