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Children's Health

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How to Teach Your Child Healthy Digestive Habits

WebMD Feature

After-school events, sports practice, homework, and socializing: These days, kids are as busy as adults.

And just like us, our children can fall into bad habits with how, when, and what they eat. Here are some nutrition mistakes that children are making, and what parents can do to help them develop good digestive habits.

5 Nutrition & Digestion Habits to Break:

Avoiding Certain Food Groups

Maybe your little one only likes yellow food, or your teen can't be bothered with dairy -- it's picky eating like this that can keep kids from getting what they need from each food group, says pediatrician Chris Tolcher, MD, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine.

Expert Tip: Balance your child’s diet.

  • Get familiar with the food guide, suggests Tolcher, and help kids learn how to get what they need from each food group. Confused by the old food pyramid? Check out the USDA's new, easier-to-understand ChooseMyPlate guide, which offers clear tips on just how much produce, protein, and other important nutrients kids need.
  • Consider calories. How many calories your kids need depends on their age and activity, but here's a rough guide: Children between 2 and 3 need about 1,000-1,400 calories per day; older kids and teen girls need about 1,600-2,200 calories and teen boys about 2,200-2,800 calories, depending on activity level.
  • Watch portions. Encourage kids to enjoy what they eat -- but to eat in moderation. One way to stop eating too much: Use smaller plates, bowls, and spoons.

Eating Too Fast

Grabbing meals or snacks on their way out the door can lead to upset stomachs, overeating, or just eating the wrong thing, as kids aim for grab-and-go food.

Expert Tip: Encourage kids to pay attention to what they eat.

Eating more mindfully is another key to good digestive health for kids, says Gerard Mullin, MD, author of The Inside Tract: Your Good Gut Guide to Great Digestive Health. When we eat slowly, we enjoy our food more -- and often eat less. Tips to help kids eat mindfully:

  • Sit down to eat. Eating in the car or on the way to school prevents kids from being aware that they've eaten.
  • Eliminate distractions. Encourage kids to put away books, smart phones, computers, and games while they eat. Don’t allow texting or hand-held games at the dinner table.
  • Notice the food. Satisfaction comes when we smell, touch, and really taste our food, so make sure kids do just that.
  • Listen. Teach kids to pay attention to what their body is telling them, to learn when they're truly hungry, and when they're full.
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