A Young Child’s Bad Food Habits

Some health articles just beg to be repeated. One is a recent article from Parents Magazine, entitled “Breaking Your Kid’s Bad Food Habits.” Here is a summary of the high points – which were taken from the book Good Kids, Bad Habits by Jennifer Trachtenburg, MD. This grandparent could not resist sharing these timely, helpful tips:

  • Constant nibbling – means the child won’t be hungry at meals when the nutritious food is served. It also prevents the child from recognizing her own feelings of hunger and fullness – a skill she will need throughout life. How to break this habit?
    • Set a schedule for meals and for snacks (if needed) and stick to it. The payoff is a child who learns to recognize and to self-regulate true hunger – a valuable life skill.
    • Add fat or protein to meals to keep the child satisfied longer.
    • Keep junk food out of sight. (This helps more than just your child!)
  • Drinking juice 24/7 – because a tummy full of juice makes a child not hungry at meals – because juice has calories which can cause unhealthy weight gain – and because juice is high in sugar, constantly bathing little teeth and causing cavities. How to break this habit?
    • Don’t serve juice in sippy cups that a child carries around with them constantly. Serve juice at the table from a regular glass.
    • Offer water instead of juice to truly thirsty children. Let him enjoy juice later when he’s not so likely to guzzle it down.
    • Dilute juice by half with water. Let them get their calories from food with lots of fiber and less sugar.
  • Eating too much sugar – means a child is getting a lot of calories without much nutrition and is developing a sweet tooth for later in life. How to break this habit?
    • Set limits of nor more than one-sweet-treat-a-day or one dessert a day and stick to it. Offer choices about what is to be eaten or when it is to be eaten. “Eat it now or after dinner.” But stick to the limits.
    • Scout out the sugar amounts – in cereals, in snacks (like fruit yogurt), in condiments and additives (like catsup) and eliminate them. Offer more nutritious and natural sweets like spiced-up bananas or fruit with whipped cream instead.
  • Carbs don’t satisfy hunger nearly as long as fat or protein foods and children get hungry sooner (see Constant nibbling above.) How to break this habit?
    • Include proteins such as beans, eggs, and low fat diary products.
    • Many kids don’t like the tough texture of meat. If you use meats, try braising, chopping up or slow cooking to make them easier to chew.
    • Don’t obsess over protein. Everything that was once alive has protein. The average toddler needs only 16 grams of protein and the preschooler about 24 grams a day. A cup of milk has 8 grams; two tablespoons of peanut butter has 7-8 grams.
  • Not eating veggies – deprives a child of vitamins, minerals and fiber that is available almost exclusively from these sources. Yes, some nutrients are available in fruits, but learning to eat veggies is a lifestyle habit that pays huge dividends as an adult through healthy weight control, better diet choices and lower risk of major diseases. How to break this habit?
    • Spruce up the veggies with seasonings or a small amount of light margarine or cheese.
    • Let the kids help make and eat the “appetizer tray” of veggies with hummus dip or low fat ranch dressing.
    • Don’t pressure or punish. Set an example by eating veggies yourself.
    • Serve new veggies alongside “safety” veggies that are known and liked by your child.

The eating patterns formed in childhood stick around for a lifetime. Help your little ones form good habits.