Eating Right for Life

Getting a toddler to eat can be very difficult. Getting them to eat the right foods can be even harder. But no matter how difficult it is, it is important to get your toddler eating the right foods now. Studies have shown that food habits formed in the early years stick with a person for life. Raising a child on sugar and junk food will lead to an adult who enjoys nothing but the wrong foods.

The Problem with Sugar
Sure sugar adds a nice little sweetness to so many foods but that doesn't make it good for you or your toddler. For a long time, it was believed that sugar caused hyperactivity or even Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). While this claim has since been refuted through many studies, there are still many negative effects caused by sugar. Sugar causes tooth decay and is a big culprit in causing weight problems in children. Plus, it offers no nutritional value and is often found in foods that are high in calories and fat.

One place parents can often find a lot of sugar without realizing it is in juice. Most experts on children's nutrition agree that juice should be served to a toddler no more than twice a day. Also, any juice that is given to a child should be labeled as 100% pure fruit juice. Juices labeled as "cocktail", "punch" or "drink" usually have very little natural fruit juice (some as little as 10%) in them but instead are full of sugar. Giving your toddler juice throughout the day, especially before meals, will often fill them up. Since their stomachs are so small already, giving them juice will leave little room for actual, nutritious food.

The Skinny on Healthy Food
Growing children need proper nutrition and that can't be found in foods high in sugar and fat. Of course, this doesn't mean that you should ban all foods not deemed "healthy" from your house. Restricting certain foods from your toddler's menu or labeling them as "bad" can actually cause problems later in life. In fact, restricting food in childhood has been shown to be a cause of eating disorders later in life (chat with other parents if you're worried about your child's eating habits). At the same time, though, you shouldn't indulge your child's every sugar craving. All foods, even junk, have a place in people's diet; it's just a matter of balance.

Help to teach your kids this by making healthy options available to them all the time. Have cut up fruit and vegetables on hand for quick healthy snacks for toddlers. Choose whole wheat or whole grain breads over plain white. An easy way to evaluate the nutritional value of a food is by considering how close it is to its natural state. Food loses nutritional value the more it is handled, so the more it has been refined or processed, the less nutrients it will contain.

If you toddler is in a picky phase when it comes to eating, you might want to look for foods that do double duty so that you can be sure your child receives all the appropriate nutrients. Cheese is a great source of calcium and protein. Red bell peppers are a good source of vitamin A and C. And both can be served up on a slice of pizza with a whole-wheat crust. However, don't give in to your child's pickiness by preparing just one meal for them that you know they like. Instead, encourage them to try new things by offering a variety of healthy options.

A Bad Reputation
One problem with health food is that it has become known as "boring". Unlike chips, chocolate bars, soda pop, and fast food, health food doesn't have eye-catching commercials on television to entice your toddler to eat healthy. This means that you will have to create your own commercials at home. Simply talking about the benefits of health food with your toddler can help them think of those vegetables in a more positive light.

Making the food more fun and presenting it in different ways can help your toddler stop thinking of it as boring. Also, getting them involved in the preparation of a meal can help the food seem more enticing. If you're having tacos for dinner, let them put on their own toppings.

It is also important to remain positive when it comes to your toddler's food choices. If your little one refuses to eat all their vegetables, resist the urge to say "Finish those peas or no desert". Not only will this get them to hate those peas, it will also give desert a higher value in your child's mind.

Healthy eating shouldn't be limited to just your toddler. The entire family should try to eat as healthy as possible. This will help reinforce good eating habits with your child. Remember, food habits made now last for life. Getting your toddler off to a good start now will make it easier for them to make the right food choices as they get older.