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How to Encourage Healthy Eating Habits -- Early

Encouraging the involvement of your entire family in healthy lifestyle habits can go a long way toward positive lifestyle changes — particularly if those habits are encouraged at a young age. In fact, learning to eat healthy, nutritious foods is a basic skill that can help children become successful, healthy adults as well.

In many cases, however, it can seem like an uphill battle to convince children that healthy eating can be tasty eating.

These guidelines, developed by Ellyn Satter, author of "How to Get Your Kids To Eat...But Not Too Much" and "Feeding With Love and Good Sense," include:

Children Challenge Themselves To Eat. Most children accept new foods when encouraged, not forced or cajoled. Studies show children may try a vegetable 15 to 20 times before they like it. To help encourage children, introduce new foods on menus. Limiting menus to foods already accepted is like limiting the curriculum to facts kids already know, Fulton said.

Children Need To Feel in Control of Their Eating. Children eat better when they have a choice about what and how much they eat, and can freely turn down what they don't want. To put this idea into practice, offer familiar, popular foods along with new foods, so children always have choices.

Children Are Inconsistent About Their Eating. Children may tire of favorite foods or skip some types of foods. Yet, over several days they usually get enough variety if a variety of foods is offered to them. Recognize that what children eat over several days — not just one meal or one day — offers the true picture of their eating skills.

Children Waste Food. Children need the freedom to just taste. Unlike most adults, kids usually stop eating when they are full. Adults must accept a reasonable amount of waste, to give the children an opportunity to try new foods.

Children Eat Foods They Like. Children, like adults, are tuned into their appetites and what tastes and looks appealing. Adults can serve attractive, well-prepared food that is generally familiar, while accepting children's day-to-day differences in appetite.

Address: Diane Fulton, Child and Adult Care Food Program, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver, CO 80222; (303) 692-2336.

© 2001 Health Resources Publishing