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Teaching healthy food habits early: How to make kids eat healthy…and enjoy it!

Cultivating healthy food habits, early in a child’s life, can have a major impact on the rest of their lives. Because diets directly impact other aspects of their lifestyle – learning, exercising, socializing, concentration, focus etc. – staff and administrators at Bethesda daycare consciously encourage children to eat healthy snacks and meals. For those healthy habits to bear fruit, however, it’s important for parents and home caregivers to continue encouraging kids to make healthy eating choices.

Healthy Food Habits and Academic Performance

Children attending daycare in Bethesda MD have a structured regimen and daily routine – including for meals and snacks. These professionally prepared meal guidelines help provide healthy, nutritious, and tasty meals for children across all age groups attending the center. There are many benefits to these meal programs:

  • Early childhood educational environments are an ideal setting to teach students about healthy eating practices at a young age
  • Repeated adherence to those practices, enforced by the daily routines that children practice at the center, inculcate healthy eating behaviors early on
  • These behavioral patterns get ingrained into the child’s psyche, making them second nature as kids grow older. The result: A healthy body, and a healthy mind!
  • Healthy eating habits, such as having a nutritious breakfast before starting the academic day, improves a child’s cognitive function, including memory and reflexes
  • Choosing to eat healthy foods also helps school-age kids with their personality. It boosts a child’s mood, enhances focus and concentration, and makes them less irritable and more amiable to learning
  • Proper hydration also plays a vital role in boosting cognitive function in children and adolescents, which directly leads to better academic performance

At Bethesda daycare, healthy meals are a primary focus of the center’s administrators and staff. As a goal, exposing young children to healthy eating habits not only improves their mental and physical health, it also manifests itself in reducing health-related absenteeism. The more regular a child is in their attendance, the better their academic performance in the longer-term.

Parents, caregivers and guardians of children or adolescents can also play their part by including youngsters in the family chore of meal selection and preparation. This gives the adults an opportunity to pass on invaluable culinary skills to the child. But it also gives adults the chance to underscore the importance of adopting a healthy diet early in the child’s life.

Understanding What “healthy” Means

When you see gym-bag totting, trim and fit adults on the streets or malls, and in office buildings, sipping a protein shake, perhaps it conveys a wrong idea about what “healthy” food is. The good news is, that healthy foods go beyond veggie shakes and green leafy salads. That’s why, kids attending daycare in Bethesda MD have a much broader variety of foods on the menu – all of them healthy choices!

So, what types of foods should parents and caregivers introduce young children to, earlier on in life? The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) have published informative facts about healthy child nutrition in their Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. These guidelines include specific healthy food recommendations for infants, toddlers, older children, and adolescents. They include:

  • A variety of fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Fat-free and low-fat dairy products
  • A variety of protein foods
  • Oils

The guidelines strongly recommend putting a limit to calory intake from solid fats, which contribute to saturated fats and trans fatty acids. And, as part of a healthy diet, individuals must reduce their intake of sodium (salt) and added-sugar meals and drinks. These general rules apply equally to children, as they do to adults.

  • Added sugars—Less than 10 percent of calories per day starting at age 2.
    Avoid foods and beverages with added sugars for those younger than age 2.
  • Saturated fat—Less than 10 percent of calories per day starting at age 2.
  • Sodium—Less than 2,300 milligrams per day—and even less for children younger than age 14.

SOURCE: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025

The authors of the guidelines found that, unfortunately, children and adolescents typically aren’t following the prescribed guidelines for healthy eating. That’s why, when planning daily meals for children at Bethesda daycare, health and nutrition experts are mindful about introducing healthy eating habits to young kids early in their lives.

Promoting Healthy Food Habits

While most parents and care givers understand the importance of promoting a healthy lifestyle for their children, the challenge, however, is: How do you encourage young kids to adopt healthy eating habits; and how do you get them to enjoy healthy foods? Well, for starters, here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Make children “partners”, not just “beneficiaries” of healthy food choices: This involves discussing and consulting young kids, early in life, when making family meal plans and choices.
  • Educate children about your choices: Kids today encounter hours of advertisements and promotions, online and on TV, about the delights of unhealthy foods – chips, cookies, candies, and sugary drinks. So, when you make a healthy food choice for them, for instance yogurt versus ice-cream, it’s important to counter the junk-food industry messaging by talking to kids about what guided your decision.
  • Plan snacking time carefully: Children attending daycare in Bethesda MD have specific times allocated for snacks, and scheduled breaks for meals. This encourages eating and snacking discipline, which is a key requirement for forming healthy eating habits. Unscheduled snacks have two negative impacts on healthy eating discipline. Firstly, they can lead to (over) eating disorders. And secondly, when it’s time to eat a healthy meal (veggies, whole grain, low-fat proteins), kids may already feel full, having snacked (on chips, pop, and soda) a few minutes before meal time.
  • Make mealtime a family affair: Kids take their cues from adults. So, when you eat meals as a family, and they see adults making healthy food choices, they’ll typically mimic what adults are doing – eagerly adopting fresh salads, unprocessed foods, and a hearty serving of boiled or steamed vegetables.
  • Build some ground rules: Create a weekly meal plan that’s rooted in some ground rules. For instance, if your child loves ice cream (which child doesn’t!), don’t deny them the occasional treat. However, make it an exception to the rule – ‘Ice cream day: Once every other month’.

Finally, don’t use food as a threat or punishment over children. Doing so may cause them to resent your healthy food recommendations, and further alienate them from embracing healthy eating habits. Most of all, use the allure of the occasional “unhealthy food splurge” as a reward for the child: ‘If you eat your broccoli every day this week, you can have a chocolate chip cookie on Saturday!’

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