This week we’ve been examining the AAP’s Committee on Nutrition report on strategies to prevent childhood obesity, understanding that once established, obesity is very, very difficult to treat — especially in children.
Of all the things we parents worry about regarding our children, what, where, when, and how they eat is probably at the top of the list. We get to renew our expectations and anxieties and revisit our hopes and fears regarding our children’s eating habits three times a day (at least). “Are they hungry? Will they like this? Will they eat that? What if he refuses to eat it? Will she melt down (again) if the green beans touch the mashed potatoes?”
Here are a few of my general recommendations when it comes to feeding young children:
- Pregnancy: Everything that goes into your body — everything you eat, drink, and breathe — goes into your baby’s body, too. Eat real food, drink clean water, and avoid polluted air. Take your prenatal vitamin. Take some time to read about how most young children are “picky” eaters and how most eventually become good eaters with a little patience, trust, and kindness. Prepare your kitchen with the tools needed for you and your spouse to make the majority of your family’s meals.
- Infants: Breastfeed if you can. Wait until six months of age to begin pureed (baby) food. Begin “finger foods” at nine months old and transition to all table foods then. Don’t add salt or sugar to food that you are preparing for infants and children. Get rid of the bottle at 12-months-old.
- Toddlers: Serve them real (not processed and packaged) foods. Serve them what you’re eating and eat what you’re serving. Don’t give up if they don’t eat something the first time — it may take many attempts before they eat it. Serve them only milk or water at meals and snacks. Eat as a family whenever possible and understand that children carefully observe what and how their parents eat. Snacks: fruits, vegetables, whole-grain dry cereals and crackers, low-fat cheese.
- Preschoolers: Avoid processed, packaged foods that have a lot of added salt, sugar, and calories. Drink low-fat milk and water primarily, no more than 4-6 ounces of 100% juice a day (water it down if you like but serve this sweet beverage only once a day). Avoid “fast food” restaurants. Serve real food. If they don’t want to eat what you are serving, consider they are not hungry instead of concluding they don’t like it. (Remember: if your food is real and healthy, there is nothing wrong with the taste. It’s delicious!) Don’t ever force a child under the age of 8 to try something if they say “no.” (You will never win that battle!) If they don’t want to eat the food you serve, then they don’t have to eat it, but don’t serve them an alternative meal. Cut fruits and vegetables up into bite-size pieces — this will make it easier for kids to eat.
- School-age: All of the above apply. Review school lunch menus with your child to help them make good choices, or let them help you plan and prepare bag lunches. Avoid sugar-sweetened juices, sodas, and sports drinks. Parents should expect their children 8 and older to at least try some things they previously refused, but they are allowed not to like it and not eat any more of it. Still, try serving it again the next time. Desserts are for dessert time, not for snacks, and fruits make great desserts. Don’t worry about what they are eating at their friends’ houses. Start teaching your kids how to be handy in a kitchen.
- Tweens and teens: These children are acquiring the knowledge to understand why proper nutrition is important for proper growth and developing the maturity to begin to own the choices they make. Becoming independent means thinking, planning, and preparing to make smart choices, not going for what’s mindless, quick, and easy (like food out of a box or package). If you buy junk, they will find it and eat it — anything in your refrigerator, food cabinet, or pantry is fair game, so don’t buy junk!
- College-age: You’ve done the best you can. They’re on their own from here!
Tomorrow, we’ll look at some other suggestions for getting kids to eat healthfully.