As a parent, you are the most important influence on your child. You can do many things to help your child develop healthy lifetime eating habits.
Offering a variety of foods help children get the nutrients they need from every food group. They will also be more likely to try new foods and like more foods.
Eat vegetables, fruits and whole grains with meals or snacks. Let your child see that you like to munch on raw vegetables.
Grocery shopping can teach your child about food and nutrition. Discuss where vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and protein foods come from. Let your children make healthy choices.
Get creative in the kitchen. Cut food into fun shapes with cookie cutters. Give a creative name to a food your child helps make. Encourage your child to invent new snacks. Make your own trail mix from dry, whole-grain, low-sugar cereals and dried fruits.
If your child says he or she is hungry, offer a small healthful snack, even if it is not a scheduled time to eat.
At dinnertime, offer the same foods for everyone. Stop being a short-order cook by making different dishes to please each child. It is easier to plan family meals when everyone eats the same foods. When meals are not eaten, your child does not need "extras" such as candy or cookies, as replacement foods.
Try new foods yourself. Describe its taste, texture and smell. Offer one new food at a time. Serve something your child likes along with the new food. Offer new foods at the beginning of a meal, when your child is likely to be hungry. Avoid lecturing or forcing your child to eat.
Have a family meal and focus on one another while at the table together. Talk about fun and happy things at mealtime. Turn off the TV. Ignore the phone; take those calls at a later time. Try to make eating meals a stress-free time.
Show your love with hugs and kisses. Comfort with hugs and kisses. Consider not offering sweets as rewards. Those types of rewards let your child think sweets are better than other foods.
Make physical activity fun for the whole family. Involve your children in the planning. Walk, run and play with your child instead of sitting on the sidelines. Set an example by putting down your electronics and being physically active. Be sure you also are a role model for using safety gear like bike helmets.
Allow no more than two hours a day of screen time such as watching TV and playing computer games. If you are watching TV get up and move during the commercials, that will help increase your amount of daily physical activity.
When your child develops a taste for many types of foods, it is easier to plan family meals. Cook together, eat together, talk together and make mealtime a family time.
Visit www.choosemyplate.gov and www.letsmove.gov for more information, tips and ideas to help you be a healthy role model for your child.
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.