Parents of preschool-aged children are accustomed to devising systems to encourage their children to eat healthy foods. By the time children are old enough to negotiate what they do and don’t eat, though, it might already be too late to establish healthy eating habits. According to a group of 11 studies sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, food preferences may be set in infancy.
Does Healthy Eating Begin in Infancy?
The group of studies evaluated nearly 1,500 6-year-olds’ eating habits. Researchers then compared those eating habits to another study that had tracked the children’s eating habits until they were a year old. They found that children who consumed few fruits and vegetables as babies also consumed few fruits and vegetables as 6-year-olds. The study’s authors point out that a variety of factors—including fear of unfamiliar foods—can affect children’s eating choices. Parents who want their children to eat healthy foods, though, should begin actively nurturing good eating habits in their children between 10- and 12-months-old.
Helping Children Make Good Choices
Though early eating habits matter more than parents might realize, it’s never too late to help children make healthy food choices. Grace Malonai, PhD, a GoodTherapy.org parenting Topic Expert, suggests parents take the following steps:
- As soon as children are ready for solid foods, introduce foods in a variety of colors and textures. Continue to offer healthy choices even if your child initially rejects a particular food.
- Don’t force children to eat foods they dislike, but continue offering new foods so that children can understand that even if they don’t like something, it’s still food and still healthy.
- Encourage your child to participate in preparing family meals.
- Offer food in different forms. For example, a child who hates raw carrots might love cooked carrots or carrots served with dressing.
Hilary Silver, LCSW, also a GoodTherapy.org parenting Topic Expert, adds, “Help children develop a positive association with being an ‘adventurous eater.’ They don’t have to like it or eat it all, but it’s great to try new foods before deciding not to like them.” She cautions that forcing children to eat food can backfire. “Never, ever force them to finish what is on their plate. Forcing kids to eat is abuse,” she says.
Saint Louis, C. (2014, September 01). Childhood diet habits set in infancy, studies suggest. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/02/health/childhood-diet-habits-set-in-infancy-studies-suggest.html?_r=0
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