Mealtime shouldn't be a battle — it should be a pleasant experience for the whole family. Kids are often picky eaters, and fussy eating can go on well past the toddler years. Sometimes even teenagers are picky about what they eat. And though you shouldn't force your children to eat everything on their plate, you shouldn't be a pushover and let them consume unhealthy foods, either. Parents need to find a balance.
Dr. Natalie Digate Muth — a pediatrician, registered dietitian and leading expert on childhood obesity and healthy eating — is the author of "Eat Your Vegetables" and Other Mistakes Parents Make: Redefining How to Raise Healthy Eaters (Amazon, $20). She wrote this book to empower parents, and she tackles everything from picky eaters to sabotaging (though well-intentioned) grandparents. The book offers plenty of honest, practical advice for parents, and it also challenges many widely held beliefs about how to raise healthy kids.
"Clean your plate!"
Don't be part of the "clean-plate club." Forcing your children to finish everything on their plate every night can contribute to both childhood and adult obesity. Making your kids continue to eat after they are full can lead to poor eating habits, overindulgence in food and unnecessary weight gain.
"Taking an authoritative parenting approach in which you set boundaries and guidelines for your children but they're given the freedom to make choices within those guidelines helps you to raise the most well-adjusted and overall healthy children," Muth writes. "Put this into practice at mealtimes, when you determine what types of foods are prepared and the children decide what and how much to eat."
We all need to keep in mind that even if we have a skinny toddler now, that doesn't mean that we can allow him to develop unhealthy eating habits. Two-thirds of adults in America are overweight or obese.
Muth says in her book, "When the frustration overwhelms and the desire to just give in and forget about it increases, remember the high price of being overweight — a condition affecting more than one-third of children today. Even if your child isn't even close to being overweight right now, he's got a decent chance of being overweight in the future if he doesn't adopt healthy nutrition and activity habits in childhood."
As with eating habits, it's essential to instill healthy fitness habits in your children from a young age. Kids who are active are happier and healthier.
Physical health is just part of the equation when it comes to raising healthy kids. Emotional and mental health is vital, too.
Of course, diet and exercise are key to raising healthy kids. But love, care and respect also go a long way toward a child becoming a happy, healthy adult.
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