Preparing your children for lifelong nutritional success

Involving children in the food preparation process from a young age will help them develop good nutritional habits.
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Good nutrition starts early. Children’s brains and bodies are continually growing and developing. It is therefore imperative to encourage their relationship with food from the start.

“We can’t talk about raising happy, healthy children without including food in the discussion,” said Kirsten Johnson, a pediatric dietitian at Ascension Illinois Saint Alexius in Hoffman Estates. “Good eating behaviors begin in early childhood, long before any of us are aware of the influence we have.”

March is National Nutrition Month, a good opportunity to evaluate what and how you demonstrate good nutrition to your children, Johnson said.

“The best way to create a positive relationship with food is to involve your children in choosing and preparing food,” she said. “Make food collection part of your daily choices. For toddlers, get a stool and place them at counter height to help them prepare meals and snacks. If they participate hands-on, they will be more likely to be enthusiastic and want to try new things.

Johnson said there are options for kid-friendly utensils today, including cutting utensils, whisks and spatulas, making it easy and fun for kids to participate in family meal preparation . Children don’t need to participate in every meal, she said, but it’s important that they have the opportunity to see what foods you choose on your plate and how you eat them.

And who you eat with, where you eat, and what feelings surround food also shape your child’s perception and relationship with what they eat. That’s why family meals are so important, she says.

“You don’t have to eat together at every meal,” she said. “But non-tech time spent at the table with kids – breakfast, lunch or dinner – not only helps build bonding, but also gives your kids the opportunity to see what you’re eating firsthand. Do you tell them to eat their vegetables, but you don’t put any on your plate? Setting an example for them to eat well can define their relationship with food for the rest of their lives.

And don’t take it personally if your child is a picky eater, Jonson said, because it can also be a completely normal part of their development. Give them some choice and guidance on what and how much they will eat. However, if you feel that your child’s difficult habits are harming their growth and development, be sure to consult their doctor.

“Ultimately, we all want to set our children up for success. Allowing them to actively participate in their food choices and meal preparation will help them succeed long after they leave the family table.

Children’s health is an ongoing series. This column was provided by Ascension Illinois.

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