The Importance of Good Eating Habits in Young Children

Parents of young children would know what to expect if the little ones were charged with planning the family meals. French fries, pizza and ice cream would grace the menu day after day. Good eating habits are not inherent at birth, yet they need to be instilled in children early in their lives. Good eating habits in young children are important to maintain normal growth rates, enable physical activity, and form healthy patterns to be carried into adulthood. Lacking these habits can land any child in the ever-growing morass of obesity and inactivity.

Young children add inches and pounds as they climb the ladder towards their teens. Good eating habits support that journey in a healthy manner. While each child’s normal growth rate may differ, all children will benefit from a varied diet of healthy options. A recent report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies found that more than 20% of children between two and five years old are already deemed overweight or obese. That alarming statistic can be avoided if parents preach good eating habits at those early ages.

Physical activity is an important part of any children’s day. Good eating habits provide the fuel for young children to reach the recommended daily goal of sixty minutes of action. Whether it be on the soccer field, in the dance studio, or at the local playground, young bodies need the nutrients which come from a healthy diet. Otherwise, sluggishness and the powerful magnet of a sedentary lifestyle can prevent children from the activity and exercise they require.

A child’s formative years allow habits to become entrenched in their daily routine. These patterns, for better or worse, are often carried into adulthood. Eating habits at an early age can attach themselves to children and either promote or hamper a healthy lifestyle as they grow older. It is important to present as many good eating habits as early as possible in youngsters so that as old dogs they do not need to learn any new tricks.

The following are several ways to encourage good eating habits in young children:

Bring children to the grocery store to let them see the variety of healthy food options. Let them choose their fruits or vegetables, and show them what ingredients go into a healthy meal.

Keep a variety of choices in the house. Kids may grow tired of an apple every day, while a kitchen stocked with all the food groups presents a myriad of healthy possibilities.

Do not necessarily praise children for a clean plate. Let them know it is okay to stop eating when they are full. Letting them serve themselves is a good way for them to learn portion control and how much their stomachs can and cannot handle.

Space snack time a reasonable distance from mealtime. Snacks too close to a full meal will spoil a child’s appetite for the larger doses of nutrients presented at lunch or dinner.

Above all, set a good example. Explain the benefits of the healthy foods the adults in the house are eating during family meals. Promote water and milk as wise beverage choices over soda. Snack sensibly with healthy choices rather than a bag of chips. Every family is entitled to the occasional batch of cookies or pizza night, but help children understand that those are deviations rather than the norm.

The importance of good eating habits in young children lies in their fostering of healthy growth. Good eating habits combat obesity, enable exercise and physical exertion, and carry forward to adulthood. The establishment of habits such as reaching for the carrot sticks instead of the potato chips, or broiling instead of frying a chicken for dinner, will provide helpful benefits to children in both the short and long terms of their lives.