Healthy Eating for Children
Helping Your Child to Eat Well
Setting the stage for pleasant mealtimes
Make a point to eat as many meals together at home as possible. A regular mealtime gives you and your family a chance to talk and relax together. It also helps you and your child to have a positive relationship with food.
- Think of the family meal table as a conflict-free zone where you each come for positive time together. Save problem solving and difficult discussions for a separate time and place.
- Save distractions, such as reading, toys, television watching, or answering the phone, for another time and place.
- Teach and model good table manners and respectful behavior.
No more power struggles—learning to trust your child's choices during meals and snacks
Most children self-correct their undereating, overeating, and weight problems when the power struggle is taken out of their mealtimes. But the hardest part for most parents is stopping themselves from directing their children's choices ("Eat at least one bite of vegetable." "That's a lot of bread you're eating." "Clean your plate." "No seconds."). Do your best to avoid commenting.
If your child skips over certain foods, eats lightly, or eats more than you'd like:
- Check yourself. Remember that your child has an internal hunger gauge that controls how much to eat. If you override those signals, your child won't be able to tune into that internal hunger gauge as easily.
- Let your child decide when he or she is full. You can remind children of the next scheduled meal or snack time by telling them, for example, "You can eat as much or as little as you want now. We will have our next snack at 4 o'clock."
Expect some rebellion as you change the way you feed your family. At first, your child may eat only one type of food, eat everything in sight, or stubbornly refuse to eat anything. Fortunately, no harm is done if your child chooses to eat too much or skips a meal once in a while.
Gradually, your child's eating habits will balance out. You'll notice that, as long as you provide nutritious choices, your child will eat a healthy variety and amount of food each week. Try to relax, and you'll see your child relax too.
Adjusting your approach based on your child's age
Reference Feeding your infant. From birth, infants follow their internal hunger and fullness cues. They eat when they're hungry, and they stop eating when they're full. Experts recommend that newborns be fed on demand.
Feeding your toddler/preschooler. As you introduce your young child to new foods, you are encouraging a love of variety, texture, and taste. This is important, because the more adventurous your child feels about foods, the more balanced and nutritious his or her weekly intake will be. Remember that you may need to present a new or different food a number of times before your child will be comfortable trying it. This is normal. The best approach is to offer the new food in a relaxed manner without pressuring your child.
Feeding your teen. When your child becomes a teen, he or she has a lot more food choices outside the home. You are still responsible for providing balanced meals in the home. Family mealtimes become especially important.
Getting help for your child's eating habits
If you are worried about your child's eating habits, you can call your family doctor for help. He or she can advise you on actions you can take or direct you to someone with specific expertise, such as:
- Registered dietitians, who teach people about nutrition or develop diets to promote health. They can also specialize in counseling to help treat food-related problems, including Reference eating disorders Opens New Window.
- Primary care pediatricians, who may have special training and experience in caring for children who have eating issues.
- Therapists or counselors, who can help your family cope with eating disorders and with power struggles about eating.
- Psychiatrists, who can provide counseling and medicine.
- Pediatric gastroenterologists, who can rule out or treat conditions of the digestive system, which could cause an eating problem.
- Pediatric endocrinologists, who can rule out or treat hormone conditions that can lead to weight problems.
Call your doctor if:
- Your child has a major change in appetite or weight. This could include eating too much or too little, or gaining or losing weight.
- Eating issues have turned your family's mealtimes into a battleground.
- You suspect that your child may have an eating disorder, such as Reference anorexia Opens New Window or Reference bulimia Opens New Window.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference January 27, 2012|
|Medical Review:||Reference John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Reference Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator