Is your child a fussy eater? Is it tough to get them to eat the foods you know are good for them, like fruits and vegetables?
Experts suggest parents should take steps very early in a child's development to make sure they adopt healthy eating habits.
"As early as 12 months old, parents should consider a division of responsibilities when it comes to feeding your child," says Dr. Matthew Smiley, medical director of the Healthy Active Living Program at Advocate Children's Hospital. "Some of those responsibilities belong to you, while others to your child."
Dr. Smiley says parents have responsibility for these three things:
1. WHAT is on your child's plate. The plate should have half fruits and vegetables, a quarter protein and another quarter grains. Parents should also be role models by eating similar foods. Remember, your child is watching what you eat.
2. WHEN your child eats. Meal times and snack times should be scheduled and routine. Your child should know what to expect when it comes to eating in your household. It will eliminate the opportunities to graze.
3. WHERE your child eats. Be sure your child sits at the table, without television or other distractions. Creating the healthy habit of eating at the table and at scheduled times is important to start early in life. This can be just as important as what the child is eating.
When it comes to eating, your child is responsible for:
1. WHETHER your child eats. As early as 9 months, parents should focus on preparing the meals, but allow the child to feed himself and decide whether to eat or not to eat.
2. HOW MUCH your child eats. Parents often want to control how much a child eats. The important thing early in life is to provide the opportunity to eat, and let the child choose whether and how much to eat.
"Letting your child make food choices at an early age is important," says Dr. Smiley. "If parents take care of their responsibilities, the child will be better prepared to make positive choices and develop a good relationship with food. Simply put: Parents provide, kids decide."
Dr. Smiley says doing so will also increase the chances your child will make healthier food choices over their entire lifetime. They will also be less likely to struggle with weight issues.
"When a child doesn't want to eat, parents get fearful," says Dr. Smiley. "That's when they start acting like short-order cooks, trying to meet the child's demands. If your child doesn't eat at breakfast, don't worry. There is another meal coming along soon."
Dr. Smiley adds, "I know that parents associate feeding a child with loving them. But a mom or dad should know that one of the greatest gifts you can give a child is a healthy future. That comes from developing healthy eating habits very early in life."
• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Advocate Children's Hospital. For more information, visit www. advocatechildrenshospital.com.