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How to Encourage Healthy Eating Habits in Young Children

There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for raising healthy kids, but one of the most important things you can do is encourage healthy eating. Is this something you spend much time thinking about?

Proper nutrition plays a catalytic role in personal health and childhood development. Unfortunately, we live in a society where busy parents find it a lot easier to purchase pre-packaged food, pop it in the microwave, and feed it to kids than to actually cook meals in their own kitchen with fresh ingredients.

This article isn’t meant to shame parents into boycotting Pop-Tarts and becoming master chefs, but it is meant to serve as a wakeup call.

The Importance of Childhood Nutrition

The earlier you start paying attention to nutrition in your child’s life, the greater opportunity you afford them to live a happy and healthy life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), healthy eating helps kids maintain a healthy body weight, consume all-important nutrients, and significantly reduce the risk of developing conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, iron deficiency, and dental cavities later in life.

A poor diet, on the other hand, can lead to energy imbalance, a high risk of lung, esophageal, stomach, colorectal, and prostate cancers, and hunger and food insecurities that negatively impact cognitive development and performance in the classroom.

While the CDC does report lower consumption levels of sugar-sweetened beverages and higher whole fruit intake among American children in recent years, empty calories alarmingly account for 40 percent of the average child and adolescent’s daily diet. Roughly half of these empty calories come from fruit drinks, soda, dairy desserts, grain desserts, whole milk, and pizza. Yikes!

The moral of the story is this: Childhood nutrition has a major impact on a child’s life from adolescence to adulthood, but it, unfortunately, isn’t being prioritized by most families until it’s too late.

This doesn’t have to be the case in your household, though.

5 Tips for Getting Kids to Eat Healthier

As a parent, you play an important role in getting your kids to eat better. If you’re unsure of where to start, the following tips and tricks should help:

1. Model Good Habits

If you aren’t eating well, you can’t expect your kids to do so either. The best way to encourage healthy eating is by setting a good example and doing it yourself. While it’s okay to occasionally eat potatoes chips or enjoy a Dr. Pepper, don’t make it an everyday occurrence. Doing so will normalize the behavior for small, impressionable children.

2. Keep Pantry and Refrigerator Stocked

It’s pretty much impossible for a young child to keep an unhealthy diet if there’s only healthy food in the house. (It’s not like they can take the car and grab fast food.) Do your best to keep the pantry and refrigerator stocked with healthy options like fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and nutrient-dense foods.

3. Cut Back on Juice

“If you’re thinking juice – think again,” Bear-Glasgow Dental advises. “Did you know, it’s lower in fiber, and your body absorbs fewer nutrients from it than from eating whole fruits? Too much can also cause diarrhea, tooth decay and can even lead to obesity. Most juices are also very high in sugar – and we all know the less sugar, the better.”

It’s better to opt for whole fruit instead. Whereas a glass of apple juice has zero fiber and 13 grams of sugar, a whole apple has three grams of fiber and just 10 grams of sugar.

4. Cook Fresh Meals

Whenever possible, opt for cooking a fresh meal rather than ordering takeout or relying on a frozen meal. Even if it’s just one or two dinners a week, having your children see you cook fresh meals is a good way to set a positive example.

5. Educate Kids on Nutrition

Finally, make sure you’re educating your kids about nutrition and the value of eating healthy. If kids understand why they’re eating certain things – and how it impacts their bodies – they’re much more likely to get excited about it and enjoy the foods you cook.

Your Child, Your Responsibility

It’s frustrating to hear parents say their children aren’t making healthy choices in regards to issues like nutrition and exercise. Left to their own devices, what children are going to make healthy choices? Cheetos and video games sound a whole lot better than broccoli and jogging. It’s great to give your children choices, but this isn’t one of those areas.

Your child is your responsibility. Take it upon yourself to make smart, healthy choices when it comes to their nutrition. If you lead, they will follow.

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