Helping your Child to Build Good Eating Habits

Answers provided by Pediatric Clinical Dietitians, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Questions:

My kids won’t eat vegetables—how do I sneak them in?

What are some commonly made meal-time mistakes?

How do you get your child to eat new foods?

What foods should you avoid?

 

My kids won’t eat vegetables—how do I sneak them in?

vegetables shaped like a flowerIf you hide the fruits and vegetables you are not helping the child to gain familiarity with it, to actually internally acknowledge that they like it. As they get older they won’t know that they are eating the vegetables and will still refuse “whole” vegetables. Then if a care giver admits to sneaking in vegetables in the past, the child will perhaps feel distrustful. For children with severe food aversions, establishing trust and being honest about what they’re eating is essential to long term success. Check out this website: www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org.  They have recipes that include fruits and vegetables, and games that get a child interested in eating fruits and vegetables without having to actually first trying them.

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What are some commonly made meal-time mistakes?

Feeding a child can be challenging, and there are some specific areas that parents can focus on to help them avoid some of the frustrating pitfalls. Structured meal and snack times are helpful to develop a healthy intake pattern. The parent is responsible for what, when, and where the child eats. The child should be in charge of how much to eat. Children should not be forced to “clean their plates,” as this practice may encourage overeating. Along with this approach, the use of appropriate serving sizes is essential, as younger children should not be expected to consume the same serving sizes as older children. Avoid the use of food as a reward for good behavior. Food should be used to fuel energy and provide nutrition, not to behave on a car ride.

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How do you get your child to eat new foods?
Baby eating a strawberry

Getting your child to try new foods can be frustrating. Remember that children take more into consideration than just a food’s taste or flavor. Sensory characteristics of foods, such as appearance, texture, consistency, aroma, and temperature, directly impact food acceptance and consumption.

The following tips may help your child try new foods:

    • Be a positive role model! Eat the new food alongside your child and let them see how much you are enjoying it. You may also seat your child alongside a sibling or friend who enjoys the food as well.
    • Let your child help prepare the food. This will allow your child to become familiar with the new food. Talk about the properties of that food (ex. color, shape). Your child may even become curious during the preparation process and taste it.
    • Make food fun! Purchase chicken nuggets that are in the shape of a dinosaur or use a cookie cutter to create fun shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or pancakes.
    • Offer one new food at a time. Offer one new food alongside, familiar and well accepted foods. You do not want to overwhelm your child with a plateful of new foods.
    • Serve new food when your child is hungry and not filled up on various other preferred foods.
    • Let your child know that if s/he doesn’t like the new food, it is okay.
    • Do not force your child to eat. As a parent, you must respect your child’s food preferences.  There may be some foods that your child does not like and that is okay.  It is important to replace that food with another food from the same food group.  Check out this book for more information on this topic: Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter.
    • Offer new foods more than once. Remember, it may take up to 15 exposures to a new food until your child accepts it.

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What foods should you avoid?

It is important for parents to understand that all food is okay if provided in moderation. However, there are some foods that should be avoided as they are considered unsafe foods.

As per the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the following foods should be avoided until 4 years of age because they are choking hazards:

    • Small, hard food such as nuts, popcorn, cough drops, hard candies, raisins, and other small dried fruit and seeds
    • Hot dogs, whole grapes, whole olives, raw vegetables, meat chunks, cherry tomatoes, and fruit chunks (e.g., apples)
    • Sticky and soft foods such as chewing gum, marshmallows, chunks of peanut butter, and jelly candies

It is important to cut all food to a size that is no larger than a pea so that it does not get stuck in the child’s throat. Foods can also be diced or shredded. Fruits and vegetables should be peeled/skin free.

In the past, AAP recommended delaying introduction to certain foods identified as highly allergenic: eggs at 24 months; peanuts, nuts and fish at 36 months. However, in 2008 the AAP changed their recommendations stating that there was insufficient evidence for delaying introduction of any foods beyond 6 months of age, including those considered highly allergenic (e.g., fish, eggs, foods containing peanut protein).

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By registered dieticians: Jennifer Autodore, RD, CSP, LDN and Liesje Nieman Carney, RD, CSP, LDN

This information is generously shared by The National’s Children Study at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

The National’s Children Study description:

Did you know that in the last 15 years asthma has risen 160% in children under five? Or that nearly one in every five children has been diagnosed with a developmental disorder such as ADHD or autism? The National Children’s Study (NCS) is looking for answers.

The NCS, the largest research study of children’s health ever conducted in the United States, is a long-term, observational study that will examine the effects of the environment and genetics on the growth, development, and health of children across the United States. The goal of the Study is to improve the health and well-being of children and contribute to understanding the role various factors have on health and disease. The Study will seek more information on health issues such as childhood obesity and diabetes, asthma, ADHD and Autism.

Montgomery County, PA has been selected as one of 105 locations across the country where the study will be conducted. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is conducting The Study in Montgomery County and women living in preselected areas within Montgomery County who are pregnant or are thinking about becoming pregnant are eligible to participate in the Study. The NCS is funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

To get involved: If you are interested in learning more or to see if you are eligible to participate, please visit their website or call 1-877-NCS-2345 (1-877-627-2345).

 

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