At Home: Teaching Children Healthy Eating Habits

A child-care provider teaches children (and parents) healthy eating habits to last a lifetime.

Ryan Bussey of Parkwood Child Development Center makes his own fruit kabob – a fun way to get your kids to eat fresh fruit.

More Peas, Please
Teaching children the ABCs of healthy eating.

TIPS ON GETTING YOUR CHILDREN TO EAT RIGHT
Carrie Doty of Parkwood Child Development Center offers helpful hints on teaching your children proper eating habits.

Get off to a healthy start. Do not expose your children to sugar and junk food. Toddlers do not know the difference between a French fry and a baked potato, a cookie or a carrot.

Keep the junk food out of the pantry. If they see it, they will want it.

Teach your children the difference between a snack (fruit, cheese and crackers, veggies and dip) and treats (cookies, candy, chips). Treats are never to be used as part of a meal or a snack.

Never use food as a reward or punishment. Food should not
have any power in a child’s life.
We eat because our bodies need nourishment.

Follow this healthy eating style: Three meals with three to five snacks per day. A typical day should consist of breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, and, depending on when dinner is served, a second snack. Children should be offered food every two to three hours as a general rule.

Involve your children: Let them help you plan the menu; take them shopping. Teach them how to pick out fresh fruit, and allow them to help with food preparation.

When serving meals, allow your child to serve himself. Use tablespoons as serving spoons.

Pour milk into measuring cups
so your children can easily fill their
own glass.

Make the food appealing. Have a colorful plate with a variety of foods.

Most importantly, remember this rule: It is your job as the parent to provide healthy food for your child. It is your child’s job to decide what and how much they will eat.

Brandon spills his milk. Ashlie watches the peas roll across the table. An errant piece of chicken slips off Jennifer’s plate and onto the floor. And it’s all cleaned up with a smile, because at Parkwood Child Development Center in Plano, these little mishaps are an essential part of a bigger plan to defeat a growing epidemic: childhood obesity.

At Parkwood, the plan is simple. Get the children involved at an early age. “Our hope is that by teaching proper eating habits right from the start – and we start our program as soon as our infants are able to eat table food – we will see children grow into healthy eaters and not picky eaters,” Carrie Doty, Parkwood’s director, says.

Parkwood’s nutritional program is a combination of food smarts, common sense, and – Emily Post would be so proud – proper table etiquette. It’s a plan of attack that is easily adapted to home life as well.

Meals are served family-style to older children. It teaches them independence and allows them to use the skills and knowledge they have learned regarding healthy food choices. It also teaches them portion control. Parkwood uses tablespoons as serving spoons, and children are not required to eat anything they don’t want. Our rule is this: It is our job to provide healthy food for the children, Doty says. It is the children’s job to choose what and how much they will eat.

Parkwood’s program follows the USDA guidelines for children’s nutrition. (“Remember the food pyramid,” Doty says.) Fresh fruits and vegetables are a regular part of the menu. “We work with the children from a very early age to teach them about healthy choices – choosing white milk over brown milk, eating fresh fruits and vegetables,” Doty says.”When children see that they have fresh fruit on their plate each day for lunch, they come to expect it.”

The Parkwood staff exposes the children to new food items, rather than relying on a steady stream of “kid-friendly” fare like corn dogs, hamburgers, and hot dogs. “Children are hesitant to try new food items,” Doty says. “But when they see their friends eating [the new items], they tend to resign themselves that it just might taste good and give it a try.”

Eating as a group is a social situation, and the Parkwood staff works with the children to teach them the necessary social skills – conversation, manners, eating from your own plate, setting the glass at the top of the plate, waiting until everyone is done before leaving the table, and clearing your own place.

Doty stresses that parents are thrilled with Parkwood’s program and its success. “Our menus are sent home with each family every day,” she says.”We often hear comments such as, ’I can’t believe she ate that.’” The children’s positive reaction to the new food items often leads to parents trying their own menu changes at home.

But the children at Parkwood tell the story best. Though Brandon spills the milk, he’s quick to clean it up and pours himself another glass. Ashlie reminds one of her tablemates, “You like chicken and rice. You should eat some.” And Jennifer might not finish all of her chicken, but she sticks around for a second helping of peas. “They’re fun to eat,” she says. All lessons well learned.

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Another Healthy Option for Busy Ones with Little Ones

Between my job, their homework, and soccer games, my two girls aren’t exactly following the new food pyramid. In fact, I don’t even know what it looks like. Which is why I was so interested in Lifestyle Gourmet (LG), a local healthy food delivery service. Every day – or on whatever schedule you like – LG delivers nicely packaged meals in a handsome refrigerated bag, which magically appears on your doorstep at dawn. The process has an elf-like quality. “Children, look, food!” Prices are cheaper than a No. 5 with Dr Pepper, and the breakfasts, in particular, are fun and offer variety. For our palate, the dinners were a little bland. We like spicy food, so we added toppings and seasonings. But for us, the breakfast plan is great, and it allows me to work out every day before carpool. One catch: To get the children’s meals, you have to buy at least one adult meal. Try it; you might like it. Visit www.lifestylegourmet.com. – Christine Allison

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