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Healthy Eating for Children - Topic Overview

What causes poor eating habits?

Poor eating habits can develop in otherwise healthy children for several reasons. Infants are born liking sweet tastes. But if babies are going to learn to eat a wide variety of basic foods, they need to learn to like other tastes, because many nutritious foods don't taste sweet.

  • Available food choices. If candy and soft drinks are always available, most children will choose these foods rather than a more nutritious snack. But forbidding these choices can make your child want them even more. You can include some less nutritious foods as part of your child's meals so that he or she learns to enjoy them along with other foods. Try to keep a variety of nutritious and appealing food choices available. Healthy and kid-friendly snack ideas include:
    • String cheese.
    • Whole wheat crackers and peanut butter.
    • Air-popped or low-fat microwave popcorn.
    • Frozen juice bars made with 100% real fruit.
    • Fruit and dried fruit.
    • Baby carrots with hummus or bean dip.
    • Low-fat yogurt with fresh fruit.
  • The need for personal choice. Power struggles between a parent and child can affect eating behavior. If children are pressured to eat a certain food, they are more likely to refuse to eat that food, even if it is something they usually would enjoy. Provide a variety of nutritious foods. Your child can decide what and how much he or she will eat from the choices you offer.
  • Emotion. A child's sadness, anxiety, or family crisis can cause undereating or overeating. If you think your child's emotions are affecting his or her eating, focus on resolving the problem that is causing the emotions instead of focusing on the eating behavior.

If your child is healthy and eating a nutritious and varied diet, yet seems to eat very little, he or she may simply need less food energy (calories) than other children. And some children need more daily calories than others the same age or size, and they eat more than you might expect. Every child has different calorie needs.

In rare cases, a child may eat more or less than usual because of a medical condition that affects his or her appetite. If your child has a medical condition that affects how he or she eats, talk with your child's doctor about how you can help your child get the right amount of nutrition.

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