Proper Balanced Diet
Creating good eating habits from the moment of birth is important to the lifelong health of a child. This page explores the role of parents and teachers in creating a healthy diet for children.
Parents play a big role
Parents play a big role in shaping children's eating habits. When parents eat a variety of foods that are low in fat and sugar and high in fiber, children learn to like these foods as well. It may take 10 or more tries before a child accepts a new food, so do not give up if your child does not like a new food right away.
Parents have an effect on children's physical activity habits as well. You can set a good example by going for a walk or bike ride after dinner instead of watching TV. Playing ball or jumping rope with your children shows them that being active is fun.
With many parents working outside the home, child care providers also help shape children's eating and activity habits. Make sure your child care provider offers well-balanced meals and snacks, as well as plenty of active play time.
If your child is in school, find out more about the school's breakfast and lunch programs and ask to have input into menu choices, or help your child pack a lunch that includes a variety of foods. Get involved in the parent-teacher association (PTA) to support physical education (PE) and after-school sports.
Your child's friends and the media can also affect his or her eating and activity choices. Children may go to fast food places or play video games with their friends instead of playing tag, basketball, or other active games. TV commercials try to persuade kids to choose high-fat snacks and high-sugar drinks and cereals. When parents help their children be aware of peer and media pressures, youngsters are more likely to make healthy choices outside the home.
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What should my child eat?
Just like adults, children need to eat a wide variety of foods for good health.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently updated the food guide. Their new website, http://www.choosemyplate.gov/, now features food guidelines that can be customized for men and women of all ages, including children.
Parents can use the http://www.choosemyplate.gov/ box to enter their child's age, gender and activity level and receive an estimate of what and how much they should be eating.
When you help children build healthy eating habits early, they will approach eating with a positive attitude—that food is something to enjoy, help them grow, and give them energy.
Create your child's own plan at http://www.choosemyplate.gov/.
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- Make sure your child eats breakfast. Breakfast provides children with the energy they need to listen and learn in school.
- Offer your child a wide variety of foods, such as grains, vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy products, and lean meat or beans.
- Talk with your health care provider if you are concerned about your child's eating habits or weight.
- Cook with less fat — bake, roast, or poach foods instead of frying.
- Limit the amount of added sugar in your child's diet. Serve water or low-fat milk more often than sugar-sweetened sodas and fruit-flavored drinks.
- Involve your child in planning and preparing meals. Children may be more willing to eat the dishes they help fix.
- Be a role model for your children. If they see you being physically active and having fun, they are more likely to be active and stay active throughout their lives.
- Encourage your child to be active everyday.
- Involve the whole family in activities like hiking, biking, dancing, basketball or roller skating.
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Health Eating & Physical Activity Across Your Lifespan: Helping Your Child, NIH. Accessed January 2008.