Commentary by Mary Brunner, MD, Riley Physicians Pediatrics – Zionsville
In the era of microwave mac and cheese and chicken nuggets, it is a challenge to get children to eat well. Using a little creativity and advance planning, there are strategies to help your kids get the nutrients they need from healthy foods.
First, if you are pregnant or considering having another child, some research shows that children’s taste preferences may actually start developing in the womb. This means that a pregnant woman’s diet may have some effect on the foods her child likes later in life. Additionally, studies reveal that babies who are breastfed for at least six months may be more likely to accept a wider variety of foods because the taste of breast milk constantly changes, exposing babies to more tastes.
For parents of toddlers and older children, here are several ways to improve your child’s diet and encourage healthier choices:
- Set a good example by eating healthy yourself.
- Offer a variety of foods so your child is exposed to different options.
- Start with just a small portion of a new food and offer a healthy alternative if your child doesn’t care for the new taste.
- Plan healthy meals and snacks in advance; when possible, clean and cut up an assortment of fruit and raw vegetables and store in the refrigerator to have on hand instead of pre-packaged snacks or junk food.
- Offer healthy snacks like blueberries or mandarin oranges; cut up red pepper and celery and serve with hummus for an after-school snack.
- Invite older children to help in the kitchen; use the time to teach them about nutrition and what makes a “healthy plate.”
- Take children to the grocery store or farmer’s market and let them pick out nutritious foods.
- Be creative with mealtime; have a “make your own pizza” night and include plenty of vegetable toppings.
The website kidshealth.org is a great resource for learning about portion sizes and vitamin and mineral requirements for children of all ages. You can download information sheets about a variety of topics related to childhood food and nutrition.
Mary Brunner, MD, specializes in pediatrics. She is a guest columnist from Riley Physicians Pediatrics, 1650 W. Oak St., Suite 210, in Zionsville. She can be reached by calling the office at 873-8855.