Healthy Eating Habits for Children

Dr. Ava Siegler explains the importance of teaching a child healthy eating habits early on.
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Getting Off to a Good Start

Dr. Ava

Q. I've read that the eating habits a child develops early on affect him throughout his life. How can I make sure that I'm giving my child the best start possible? --Feeding Frenzy

Dear Feeding Frenzy: To help your baby build good feelings about food, try to think positively about her appetite ("What a good eater!"), rather than feeling overwhelmed or resentful ("Isn't she ever going to be satisfied?"). Remember that newborn babies need to nurse every 2 to 3 hours throughout the day and night to develop their brains as well as their bodies. While you may envy a friend whose 3-month-old sleeps through the night, that baby may actually be missing important meals.

 

By 3 to 4 months, most newborns can go a little longer between feedings -- usually about 3 or 4 hours. But if your baby is hungry ahead of time, don't let him get miserable. Remember, your sensitive response to your baby's cries intensifies the empathic connection between the two of you.

 
Starting Solids

As your baby begins to add some solid foods to her diet (usually during the second half of her first year), pay attention to what she likes and doesn't like. Babies do have preferences! Don't mix foods together when they're first introduced. You need to learn your baby's preferences, and you also need to know about allergies that may emerge. When trying a new food, give her a small taste and allow her time to respond before offering another spoonful. An eagerly opened mouth means the food's a hit, a scrunched up face or spitting out the food means it's a miss -- try it again in three or four weeks.

 

In the second year of life, your child begins to develop more independence -- which shows at the dinner table, too. This is the age when willful battles over eating are easily provoked, so be careful. Never force a child to eat. It's a setup for disaster! When you overpower a youngster's appetite, he learns to ignore his body's signals and to associate eating with stress and tension. He also comes to believe that you have no regard for his feelings. You need to respect your child's choices, including those he makes about food.

 
Continued on page 2:  The Picky Eater

 

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