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Healthy Habits and Nutrition in Children

You want to nourish your child with a wide variety of healthy foods chosen from all major food groups. But what if your child is a picky eater and battles you about foods? Try these tips.

  • Keep at it. Continue to offer new foods as an option with meals. Children usually try new foods after they become familiar.
  • Be a role model. Your child learns a lot from watching and mimicking you.
    • If you don't want your child to eat it, don't eat it yourself. Your child will learn to beg, sneak, or crave it. So don't keep it in the house.
    • Stay seated while you eat and drink so that your child will do the same. Don't let your toddler walk around with a bottle or sippy cup. His or her unsteady walking could lead to a fall that causes an injury. Also, your older child could get injured while walking or running around with food or a drink in his or her mouth.
  • You both have a job. You decide "what," "where," and "when" your child can eat. Your child decides "how much" and even "whether" to eat. Teach your child to eat slowly. Let your children eat healthy foods when they are hungry and stop when they are full. If you seem anxious about how much food your child eats, your child could develop eating disorders later in life.
  • Have mealtime routines. Family meals can be pleasant social events, not just a time when your child feels obligated to eat.
  • Food shouldn't be a reward. Finishing a plate of food or trying new food is its own reward. If you serve dessert, consider it part of the meal and not a special treat.
  • Watch out for juice. Juice is not part of a healthy diet. Compared to a piece of fruit, fruit juice doesn't have the valuable fiber, is usually more calories, and it is absorbed differently. Unless the label says the drink has only 100% juice, beware that many fruit drinks are just water, a little juice flavoring, and a lot of added sugar. If you must give juice, water it down. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises no more than 4 fl oz (120 mL) to 6 fl oz (180 mL) of 100% fruit juice a day for children 1 to 6 years old.1 This means ½ cup to ¾ cup.

Children have special vitamin and mineral needs. For example:

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  • Infants need a source of iron. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends iron supplementation in breast-fed babies starting at 4 months of age for full-term babies and by 1 month of age for preterm babies. Use iron-fortified formula (for formula-fed babies). And when you start your infant on solid foods, include high-iron infant cereals and/or meat baby foods. Infants may need a daily vitamin D supplement. Talk with your doctor about how much and what sources of vitamin D are right for your child.
  • Children ages 6 months to 16 years may need a fluoride supplement. Normal amounts of fluoride added to public water supplies and bottled water are safe for children and adults. If your child needs extra fluoride, your dentist may recommend supplements. Use these supplements only as directed. And keep them out of reach of your child. Too much fluoride can be toxic and can stain a child's teeth.
  • Girls ages 9 to 18 years need more calcium and may not get enough calcium from the foods they eat.

Citations

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics (2001, reaffirmed 2007). The use and misuse of fruit juice in pediatrics. Pediatrics, 107(5): 1210–1213.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last Revised July 25, 2012

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: July 25, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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