As a mom of three boys, I’ve had my challenges. Luckily, none of them stemmed from food or beverages. I firmly believe that good eating habits begin forming right at that first feeding shortly after birth, and that as a mom, you have a lot of influence those first few years to establish healthy habits that will carry through your children’s lives.
For Mother’s Day, I thought I’d share my tips for feeding children. If things go well in the very beginning, your child will be set for life, and by the teen years, well, at least nutrition won’t be an issue.
Breast or Bottle?
That’s up to the mom. While I’d encourage every new mom to try to breastfeed, it’s clear that it’s a more natural and easygoing process for some. This doesn’t mean that those who don’t or can’t breastfeed their infants are failures! The more important thing is how you feed your baby.
- Newborns require small, frequent feedings. Pay attention to your baby’s cues. If he starts to pull away from breast or bottle, or fuss, take a break. He may be full and finished, or perhaps needs to burp. Don’t force an infant to finish a bottle. When he seems to be done, he’s done.
- Keep track of your infant’s weight by checking in regularly with your pediatrician.
Breast milk or infant formula is all baby needs the first 12 months of life. But by six months, when baby can sit up in a highchair, it’s okay to gradually begin offering solid foods. It’s not just what is offered, but how and how much. Set the stage for healthy habits by eating on a regular schedule, sitting at the table, helping baby learn to use a spoon and cup, and encouraging good manners. Talk to your pediatrician before beginning solid foods.
Don’t Sign Up for the Clean Plate Club
You may have been brought up to “clean your plate!”, but this rule doesn’t support good eating habits early on. Offer very small portions to toddlers (about 1 tablespoon of protein, starch, vegetable or fruit), and if they finish it and still seem hungry, offer another portion. Studies show that children who drink milk have better diet quality, so I recommend milk as the beverage of choice for mealtime.
The teen years are often as tough as you’ve heard they’d be. At this age, there are so many issues that may be going on in your child’s life that potato chips or an occasional soda are probably the least of your worries. My best advice at this point is to continue to provide healthy meals at home, have healthy snacks on hand at all times (fresh fruit, yogurt, popcorn, nuts, sandwich fixings or make-your-own, healthy pizza fixings) and give them some autonomy. Encourage physical activity and healthy beverage choices (such as water and milk). A teenager’s need for calcium is still high (1,200-1,500 milligrams a day, or about four 8-ounce glasses of milk). In fact, the teen years are a time that they are absorbing more calcium into their bones than ever.
Skip the Food Fights
If you support good eating habits in your baby early on, by the time your child goes to school they should be making reasonable choices and be at a healthy weight. The less of a big deal you make of “eating your vegetables” or limiting treats, the better. I’ve never deprived my children of snack chips, cookies, or candy, and they learned to self-monitor. Of course, monkey see, monkey do. So as the parent, be sure your kids see you enjoying appropriate portions of healthy foods and beverages and exercising regularly.
This blog post was written by Rosanne Rust, a registered, licensed dietitian-nutritionist with Rust Nutrition Services and the mom of three sons. Rosanne aims to help consumers make sense of science by creating reasonable messages that can help folks maintain a healthy lifestyle. Her work includes developing social media strategies, freelance writing, and blogging at chewthefacts.com as well as providing online nutrition/wellness coaching at reallivingnutrition.com. She’s co-authored several books in the For Dummies® series including DASH Diet For Dummies®, Hypertension Cookbook For Dummies® and the Glycemic Index Cookbook for Dummies®. You can learn more about Rust Nutrition Services at her website www.rustnutrition.com.