BUILDING HEALTHY MEALTIME HABITS
BE A HEALTHY ROLE MODEL FOR CHILDREN
10 Tips for Preschoolers
Preschoolers love to copy what their parents do. They mimic your table manners, your willingness to try new foods, and your preferences. Take a break from the TV or phone and build healthy mealtime habits together.
- Plan meals and snacks.
- Make time for three meals and one or two snacks every day. Offer choices from each food group—fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and protein foods—throughout the day so your preschooler gets the nutrition he or she needs.
- Make meals enjoyable.
- Eat meals with your children whenever possible. Let them help you prepare the meal. Make conversation about something that made them laugh. Keep mealtime upbeat and stress free.
- Try to get two food groups in a snack.
- Pair sliced tomato with low-fat cottage cheese or add nut butter to a 100% whole-wheat mini bagel.
- Keep things positive.
- Talk about the color, feel, or flavor of foods so they sound appealing to your preschooler. Discourage others from making negative comments about food during meals.
- Develop taste buds.
- When preschoolers develop a taste for many foods, it's easier to plan meals. Keep in mind that it may take a dozen tries for a child to accept a new food.
- Visit the market.
- Shopping can teach your preschooler about food and healthy eating—talk about where foods come from and how they grow.
- Let children practice serving themselves.
- Include smaller cuts of fish or meat and offer small serving utensils so they get just enough during meals. Encourage them to ask for more if they are still hungry.
- Beverages are important, too.
- Water helps to quench your preschooler’s thirst, and milk provides nutrients for growth. Offer water or fat-free or low-fat milk as beverage choices instead of sugary drinks.
- Help them know when they are full.
- Encourage your child to stop eating when he or she is full rather than when the plate is clean. When your child is not interested in the meal, excuse him or her from the table.
- Reward with attention, not treats.
- Rewarding children with sweet desserts or snacks may encourage them to think that treats are better than other foods. Comfort and reward with care and praise, not food.
Brought to you by the United States Department of Agriculture. DG TipSheet No. 38, June 2015.
10 Tips for Setting Good Examples
You are the most important influence on your child. You can do many things to help your children develop healthy eating habits for life. Offering a variety of foods helps children get the nutrients they need from every food group. They will also be more likely to try new foods and to like more foods. When children develop a taste for many types of foods, it’s easier to plan family meals. Cook together, eat together, talk together, and make mealtime a family time!
- Show by example.
- Eat vegetables, fruits, and whole grains with meals or as snacks. Let your child see that you like to munch on raw vegetables.
- Go food shopping together.
- Grocery shopping can teach your child about food and nutrition. Discuss where vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and protein foods come from. Let your children make healthy choices.
- Get creative in the kitchen.
- Cut food into fun and easy shapes with cookie cutters. Name a food your child helps make. Serve “Janie’s Salad” or “Jackie’s Sweet Potatoes” for dinner. Encourage your child to invent new snacks. Make your own trail mixes from dry whole-grain, low-sugar cereal, and dried fruit.
- Offer the same foods for everyone.
- Stop being a “short-order cook” by making different dishes to please children. It’s easier to plan family meals when everyone eats the same foods.
- Reward with attention, not food.
- Show your love with hugs and kisses. Comfort with hugs and talks. Choose not to offer sweets as rewards. It lets your child think sweets or dessert foods are better than other foods. When meals are not eaten, kids do not need “extras”—such as candy or cookies—as replacement foods.
- Focus on each other at the table.
- Talk about fun and happy things at mealtime. Turn off the television. Take phone calls later. Try to make eat meals a stress-free time.
- Listen to your child.
- If your child says he or she is hungry, offer a small, healthy snack—even if it is not a scheduled time to eat. Ask “Which would you like for dinner: broccoli or cauliflower?” instead of “Do you want broccoli for dinner?”
- Limit screen time.
- Allow no more than 2 hours a day of screen time like TV and computer games. Get up and move during commercials to get some physical activity.
- Encourage physical activity
- Make physical activity fun for the whole family. Involve your children in the planning. Walk, run, and play with your child—instead of sitting on the sidelines. Set an example by being physically active and using safety gear, like bike helmets.
- Be a good food role model.
- Try new foods yourself. Describe it taste, texture, and smell. Offer one new food at a time. Serve something your child likes along with the new food. Offer new foods at the beginning of a meal, when your child is hungry. Avoid lecturing or forcing your child to eat.
Brought to you by the United State Department of Agriculture. DG TipSheet No. 12, June 2011.