(Family Features) Daily food choices can have a profound impact on overall health and well-being. Not only do healthy dietary patterns help maintain good health, they also reduce the risk of chronic diseases throughout all stages of life.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 and nutrition experts agree it is vital to establish healthy eating habits early and maintain them throughout childhood.
“Research shows toddlers who eat a wide variety of foods are more likely to carry those habits into adulthood, so it’s important to introduce and reinforce healthy eating habits from the time a child starts to eat solid foods,” said Courtney Hines, KinderCare Learning Centers’ registered dietitian. “In fact, the first two years of a child’s life are often referred to as ‘the golden window’ because this is when kids are most open to trying new foods and flavors. By encouraging variety and healthy eating early in life, parents and families can dramatically reduce picky eating habits many toddlers and children develop over time while also helping their children develop balanced relationships with food they’ll carry with them into adulthood.”
Consider these tips and tricks to try at home with kids of all ages to build healthy eating habits and excitement around trying new foods.
When babies are ready for solid foods, be sure to expose them to a wide variety of whole, unprocessed foods with varying flavors and textures. Start with soft foods like mashed potatoes, avocados, cooked rice and bananas until your children are ready for firmer solids.
Toddlers who turns up their noses at veggies or fruit may be more open-minded if they’re an active participant in mealtime prep. Ask your children to pick one new fruit or vegetable and agree that you’ll both taste it. Asking your children to describe the appearance, texture, taste and smell of the food can also be a fun way to build vocabulary.
Around the 2- or 3-year mark, children become interested in investigating and learning. Engage their natural curiosity in the world around them by planting a small vegetable, fruit or herb garden for your tiny chefs to tend to - it can be as simple as a windowsill garden. Gardening helps children understand where healthy, nutritious foods come from. Plus, children are more likely to eat what they’ve grown, which means more fruit and veggies in their diets.
The kitchen is chock-full of learning opportunities for all ages. School-agers can work on their math skills as they measure ingredients for recipes.
“Cooking together also gives parents an opportunity to talk about nutrition in terms children can understand,” Hines said. “For example, carbohydrates, like bread, provide energy for our bodies and brains. When we eat carbohydrates, our bodies store them for later. That’s why we’re having whole-grain pancakes for breakfast, so you have the energy you need to fuel your brain and body all morning.”