Mother and daughter smiling at table outdoors

Mother and daughter smiling at table outdoors.

A new school year has begun! As you may know, we’ve recently enhanced our Links to Learning curriculum to add more dimension and depth to our programs, including a greater focus on instilling healthy living habits at an earlier age. We will be working with the children to learn about the concept of healthy foods, and we will be discussing the importance of a balanced diet.

Recent studies show a slight decrease in obesity rates among preschool children; however, roughly 9% of all preschoolers are still overweight or obese. While diet is only one contributor to childhood obesity, it is critical that healthy eating is encouraged at home.

We all know the familiar battle of trying to get our children to try new foods, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, and branch out beyond the familiar favorites of macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets. Below are four ways in which you can begin to lay the foundation of healthy eating with your child.

Set an example. Young children love to mimic their parents’ actions. By modeling good eating habits, your child will learn to make wise food choices as well. Dine with your child and show him the variety of foods you are eating. When rushing out the door, grab healthy snacks such as an apple or granola bar.

Allow your child to be involved. Allow your child to assist in age-appropriate cooking to learn how different foods are prepared. In many instances, children will sample new foods if they feel that they contributed to the preparation.

Offer a variety of foods. Get in the habit of serving your child small portions of whatever you are eating. Celebrate when your child tries new healthy foods by saying, “You’re a big boy, just like Daddy!” Add a new vegetable to a favorite soup or a new fruit atop a favorite cereal. This approach allows your child to experiment with new foods while taking comfort from familiar foods.

Make food fun. Present foods in creative ways, such as cutting them into different shapes, arranging the ingredients in funny faces, or serving fruits and vegetable with a yogurt or dip.

Continue to promote experimentation and positively recognize any attempts to try new things. Encourage your child to try different foods, but never demand that he eat something as punishment. Don’t be discouraged if progress is slow in the beginning. Picky eating is very common and is generally a temporary phase. In the long run, your child will learn to take satisfaction from balanced meals prepared with love, and will acquire healthy habits for life.