Setting up your kids for lifelong nutritional success

Good nutrition starts early. Children’s brains and bodies are continually growing and developing, so it’s imperative to foster their relationship with food from the start, too.

“We can’t talk about raising happy, healthy children without including food in the discussion,” said Kirsten Johnson, pediatric dietitian with Ascension Illinois Saint Alexius in Hoffman Estates. “Good food behaviors start in infancy, well before any of us are aware of the influence we’re having.”

March is National Nutrition Month, a good opportunity to evaluate what and how you’re demonstrating good nutrition for your kids, Johnson said.

“The best way to model a positive relationship with food is to get your children involved in their food selection and preparation,” she said. “Incorporate food gathering as a day-to-day choice. For little ones, get a stool and get them up to counter height to help make meals and snacks. If they’re taking part hands-on, they’ll be more apt to be excited and want to try new things.”

Johnson said there are options these days for kid-friendly utensils, including cutting utensils, whisks and spatulas, making it fun and easy for children to take part in making the family meals. Kids don’t need to take part in every meal, she said, but it’s important they have the opportunity to see what foods you choose for your plate and how you eat them.

And who you eat with, where you eat and what feelings surround food also all shape your child’s perception and relationship with what they eat. This is why family mealtimes are so important, she said.

“You don’t have to eat together for every meal,” she said. “But non-technology time with kids at the table — breakfast, lunch or dinner — not only helps with bonding, but it allows the opportunity for your kids to see what you’re eating yourself. Are you telling them to eat their vegetables, but then not putting any on your plate? Modeling a balanced diet for them can set 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, as that, too, can be a completely normal part of their development. Allow them some choice and guidance in choosing what and how much they’ll eat. However, if you feel your child’s picky habits are interfering with their growth and development, be certain to consult their doctor.

“In the end, we all want to set our children up for success. Allowing them to take an active part in their food choices and meal preparation will help them succeed long after they’ve left the family dinner table.”

Children's health is a continuing series. This column was provided by Ascension Illinois.

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