Teach Good Eating Habits Early

There are so many “firsts” parents must consider, and two of the most important involve introducing foods and making sure our little ones learn to eat healthily. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), babies can try single grain cereals between 4 to 6 months of age.

Starting with these bland foods allows children to acquire a taste for them before the introduction of more flavorful food items. After a baby handles cereals well and no allergies appear, the AAP says it’s time to move on to fruits and vegetables.

Oklahoma is behind the curve on healthy eating habits. We aren’t the worst, but we have a lot of opportunities toward improvement at all ages. With child obesity rates even scarier with each new report, it’s up to parents to make sure their children don’t become part of the next statistic. Because March is National Nutrition Month, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is stepping up its efforts to promote good nutrition choices and good physical activity.

“No single food or meal constitutes a healthful diet. Overall pattern of eating is the most important focus,” said outgoing State Health Commissioner Dr. Mike Crutcher. “A wide variety of foods can fit within the pattern, if consumed in moderation, in appropriate portions and combined with regular physical activity.”

The first recommendation of the OSDH and the American Dietetic Association (ADA) is a visit to the USDA’s website, choosemyplate.gov. There, parents can get customized plans for children as young as 2 years old, emphasizing a balance between physical activity and food needs. There’s even a link for breastfeeding mothers.

For a moderately active 2-year-old of either sex, one cup each of fruits and vegetables is the recommended amount to be portioned out over a day’s total meals. Additionally, three ounces of grains should comprise the diet, two cups milk (dairy), and two ounces of protein (meat and beans).

Daily food requirements of the sexes start to differ at age three. Girls need an additional ounce of grains; boys need two more ounces. Both boys and girls require an additional one-half cup of vegetables each day, but boys also need an extra half cup of fruit. Their milk/dairy requirements do not change, but in the meat/protein group girls should have three ounces and boys need four.

The best thing about the FDA site is that parents can determine food needs based on each child’s age and activity level. This shifts the model from the old ideal of treating every body the same, and into a resource promoting a healthier lifestyle by creating good habits based on exercise and nutrition. Introducing nutritious food varieties from a young age will mean a lifetime of better health for our children.

The OSDH and ADA offer 10 ideas for improving family health for all ages.

  1. Use choosemyplate.gov to develop a personalized plan for lifelong health.
  2. Before adopting any changes to diet, be sure the information is based on scientific fact.
  3. Registered dietitians are uniquely qualified to translate the science of nutrition into reliable everyday advice.
  4. Balancing physical activity and a healthful diet is the best recipe for managing weight and promoting overall health and fitness for a lifetime.
  5. The majority of food choices should be packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other (lower calorie) nutrients.
  6. A person’s total diet is the most important focus for healthful eating.
  7. Prepare, handle and store food properly to keep your family safe from food-borne illnesses.
  8. Learning good nutrition habits will help everyone not fall prey to food myths and misinformation that may harm rather than benefit health.
  9. Food labels offer nutritional facts to help make good food choices.
  10. By choosing polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats, bad fat intakes are reduced and cholesterol is kept lower.
Categories: Infant/Pre-School, Little Ones