Healthy Eating for Kids and Teens (page 2)
Soda leeches calcium from growing bones. Teenage girls, who often live on diet sodas in an effort to stay slim, are four times more likely to break a bone than teen boys. Fizzy water and fruit juice drinks are a far healthier choice.
Good nutrition is the bedrock of lifelong health, and it begins in infancy. Yet all too soon, your kids are bombarded by messages that counteract your efforts. Between peer pressure and the constant television commercials for junk foods, getting children to eat well might seem more futile than fruitful. However, there is a lot that parents—and children—can do to develop and maintain healthy eating habits that last well into adulthood.
Start my child off eating well
Because the childhood impulse to imitate is strong, the best move you can make to start your child off on the right dietary foot is to be a role model, so that when your youngster asks to taste what you're eating, your plate is filled with healthy selections from the new food guide pyramid. If you're asking your child to eat vegetables and fish while you graze on potato chips and soda, your actions will override your good intentions. (See Helpguide's Healthy Eating: Guide to New Food Pyramids and Tips for a Healthy Diet.)
Children will develop a natural preference for what they eat most often and enjoy. The challenge is to make healthy choices appealing. When one resourceful mother called whole-wheat graham crackers "cookies," her daughter considered them a treat. By the time her child tasted a white sugar cookie at a friend's house (at around age 5), the child found it overly sweet and rejected it. (Bonus: as a young woman, she had strong teeth with no decay.)
To promote healthy childhood eating:
- Have regular family meals. Children need routines. Knowing dinner is served at approximately the same time every night and that the entire family will be sitting down together is comforting, which also enhances appetite, and provides a perfect opportunity for your children to share what's on their minds.
- Get kids involved. Children enjoy helping adults grocery shop, selecting what goes in their lunch box, and preparing dinner. It's also a chance for you to teach them about the nutritional values of different foods, and (for older children) how to read food labels.
- Make a variety of healthy foods available. Keep plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grain snacks and healthful beverages (bottled water, milk, herbal tea, occasional fruit juice) around and easily accessible so kids become used to reaching for them when they're hungry.
- Let them choose. Don't make mealtimes a battleground by insisting a child clean the plate, and never use food as a reward or bribe.
Changing dietary needs
As children develop, they require appropriately-sized portions of the same healthy foods adults eat, along with more vitamins and minerals to support growing bodies. This means:
- Whole grains (whole wheat, oats, multi-grain, rye, rice, millet, quinoa);
- Fresh fruits and vegetables;
- A source of calcium for growing bones (milk, yogurt, or substitutes if lactose intolerant);
- Healthy proteins (fish, eggs, poultry, lean meat, nuts and seeds).
Refined white sugar and white flour are not necessary to a healthy children's diet—and your child will get enough of these from whatever sweets and fast foods they do eat.
Contrary to what many parents believe, kids don't need large amounts of fat because they're "burning it off" by being active. But the kind of fat they're eating does matter. Butter on vegetables, avocados and corn chips (made with sunflower or safflower oil), pecans or walnuts are far preferable to French fries, donuts, candy bars or cheeseburgers.
Babies grow faster than at any other stage of life, tripling their birth weight by their first birthday. This time also sets the stage for many later eating patterns and emotional relationship with food, so it is important to pay attention to both what and how you feed your baby. Whether you breast-feed or bottle-feed your infant, holding, cuddling and soft, gentle sounds and expressions are an important part of the feeding process, as they engage both mother and baby in secure attachment (see Helpguide’s Parenting: Attachment, Bonding, and Reactive Attachment Disorder).
In the first year of life, breast milk is the ideal food. Check with a nurse practitioner or La Leche League for useful tips to make breast-feeding a successful and easy process. Moms who need to be away from their babies can use a breast pump to express and store milk in the refrigerator or freezer, for Dad or other caretaker to bottle-feed the infant. A sick baby or one with many allergies will often do much better with breast-milk than formula. If you are unable to produce enough milk, ask your pediatrician about breast-milk donations (see references and resources for Milk Bank locations).
If breastfeeding is not an option, infant formula contains virtually the same mix of protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins, minerals and calories that your baby needs to grow at this crucial stage of development. If you choose to bottle-feed:
- Be sure to use sterile bottles, clean water, and follow instructions on amount of formula.
- Do not dilute formula, or your baby will not be getting adequate nutrition.
- To avoid bottle tooth decay , be sure to remove the bottle when feeding is complete. If your baby falls asleep with the bottle, natural sugars in the milk can cause decay in new or forming teeth.
- For the same reason, don’t let your toddler carry around a bottle of milk, juice, or any other liquid besides water while playing.
- Avoid introducing cow’s milk until after one year old, if at all (some children are allergic to cow’s milk and do better with goat’s milk, or soy or rice milk).
Weaning your baby
Current wisdom says breastfeeding for the first year of life confers numerous health benefits to your child. Beyond that, it's all right to continue for as long as you and your child feel comfortable. Bottle-fed babies can begin to transition to a “sippy-cup” when they are able to hold and manage the container. Healthy eating habits over a lifetime can develop by introducing new experiences as signs of maturity and exciting development, and will make it easier for your child to let go of baby things being held for emotional support.
Introducing solid foods
At 4 to 6 months of age, when your baby has learned to sit up, control head movement and swallow food rather than pushing it out, it's time to begin adding solid foods to baby's diet.
- Start slowly: just one or two spoonfuls of food in the beginning.
- Introduce one new food at a time. Add another new food after four or five days. Waiting allows the baby to get used to new flavors and allows you to identify any problem foods easily if allergic reactions occur.
- Begin with rice cereals. Rice is less likely than other grains to cause an allergic reaction. Mix it with breast milk or infant formula to provide a good balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat and to serve as a good source of iron.
- Hold the baby during feeding. Babies need to be reassured that this new experience is safe.
Reprinted with the permission of Helpguide. © 2001-2008. All rights reserved.
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