As adults, it’s easy to get swept up in the latest diet trends, whether it’s basic calorie-counting or a more extreme juicing detox plan. But as parents, it’s important to provide a balanced diet that meets a child’s specific nutritional needs.
- Protein – Select lean meats, seafood and poultry, plus eggs, beans, soy products and unsalted nuts/seeds.
- Fruits – Provide a good mix of fresh fruits, including everything from apples and bananas to berries and citrus. If your child enjoys fruit juice, be sure it’s all-natural, 100 percent juice, with no added sugar.
- Vegetables – Offer a wide range of vegetables, including red, orange and green leafy items, plus beans and peas.
- Grains – Focus on whole-grain breads, cereals, crackers, pastas and rice.
- Dairy – Choose low-fat dairy options, such as milk, yogurt, cheese or fortified soy products. (Keep in mind that your child’s calcium requirements change as they get older. Children aged 1–3 years need about 500 mg per day, while children aged 4–8 need 800 mg daily.)
You can also help your child develop good eating habits by following these tips:
Set a good example. Limit foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt in your own diet. Try new foods together with your child, and be sure that they see you making smart choices in the grocery store, in restaurants and at home.
Provide plenty of options. Keep a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables on hand—especially at snack time. And encourage your child to try new foods and flavor combinations. For example, you might substitute a toasted peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich for the classic PB&J.
Preparation matters. Bake, broil, grill or steam foods rather than frying. And be sure to limit heavy sauces and gravies.
Pay attention to portions. Let your child serve himself whenever practical, and start with small portions. Let them know that it’s OK to stop eating when they’re full—don’t insist that they clean their plate. This will help them learn to recognize their body’s cues of hunger and fullness.
Don’t forget about drinks. Offer water or low-fat milk with each meal. Avoid sodas and sugary fruit drinks.
Satisfy that sweet tooth in smart ways. Offer healthy alternatives to cookies, candies and other junk food. A fresh fruit parfait made with low-fat yogurt can be a great treat. You might also try baked apples or grilled peaches or pineapple.
Avoid power struggles. Mealtime should be relaxing and enjoyable. Resist the urge to bargain with or bribe picky eaters with dessert or special treats. Prepare and serve a variety of nutritious foods, and then let your child decide which ones they prefer.
Make mealtime fun. Get in the habit of planning meals and eating together as a family. Involve your child in the preparation and cleanup process, as well as the conversation during meals.
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