According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity among children ages 2 to 5 has more than doubled since 1976, reaching 10.4 percent between 2007 and 2008. In the same period, the obesity rate among kids ages 6 to 11 skyrocketed from 6.5 to 19.6 percent.
Parents and primary caregivers are the very first models who kids emulate. As such, they have the power and responsibility to teach kids healthy eating habits from a young age. Here are some healthy eating tips to pass on to your kids to ensure the best possible start for a healthy life.
Rosanne Rust, registered dietitian, online weight loss coach and author, says that healthy eating habits in kids start from day one. She advises parents to let babies eat on their own schedules, as opposed to mandating eating times like "lunch is at noon" or "dinner is at five." This allows babies to develop their own natural hunger and fullness cues. The same rule applies for toddlers. While parents should provide structure around scheduled meal and snack times, they should not force a young child to eat if he claims he isn't hungry. (Even the pickiest eater will cave when truly hungry.)
Along those same lines, Rust warns parents against urging children to eat everything that's on their plates -- even in that's fruits, veggies and other healthy foods. Kids who learn to tune into their internal hunger and satiety cues recognize when they are truly hungry and when they are eating out of an emotional need, such as boredom or sadness. This is a seemingly simple skill that many overweight adults lack and struggle to re-establish.
Nutritional designer Alina Zhukovskaya advises caregivers to make a fun game of meal preparation. Kids as young as 4 can take on simple and safe food preparation tasks, such as washing veggies, adding liquids to a recipe, and crumbling cheese or herbs. Kids will feel empowered, and they're more likely to eat what they help prepare.
Certified nutritional therapy practictioner Margaux J. Rathbun tells parents to reference the colors of the rainbow and involve kids in picking out side dishes of fruits and veggies. For example, ask your child what color of the rainbow she'd like to add to her plate: red, orange or green. She will soon see that unhealthy foods are not in the rainbow, and and she'll learn to make healthy choices when she's on her own.
Telling your kids not to eat fast food, candy, ice cream and chips is nearly pointless if they see you doing it. Remember that kids absorb and watch your actions more than you realize, and they will model their lifestyle choices after yours.
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