Teaching a young child the importance of good nutrition is essential to instilling healthy food habits at a young age. This process may begin at preschool, but unless eating well is practiced in the child’s home, it is likely to end there. There are many ways to help teach children how to eat properly. In fact, they can have fun while doing it.
The first thing to remember is that young children love to learn new things. They pride themselves on each task accomplished and it is important to use this as an advantage. Children love color and vegetables and fruits come in an assortment of flavors as well as colors. According to Wholesome Toddler Food, children should eat four servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Each serving is approximately one tablespoon per year of age the child is (up to four tablespoons). A great place to start is with the child’s favorite color. Have the child choose several different fruits and vegetables of this color to try and pick his or her favorite ones. Try a new color every day or every week until the child has a plethora of healthy food choices.
Another important food group to teach young children about is proteins. This is a tricky category because not all proteins are meat. Red meat, poultry, and fish do fall into this category, but other things such as legumes (including peanut butter) contain high levels of protein. A great way to incorporate them into a meal or snack is to combine them with a fruit or vegetable. Celery sticks or apples work well with peanut butter. Kidney beans and black beans also add color and protein to salads. Black beans can also be pureed and used in great recipes, such as this Recipe. Proteins can be fun to integrate into a child’s healthy diet. Young children should have approximately two protein servings each day.
The next food group is dairy and has a variety of tasty food choices. This group includes milk and all of its byproducts: cheese, yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, and even ice cream. Some choices are obviously more nutritious than others and teaching children this is very important. For example, once a child is 2 years old, lower-fat dairy foods are a much better option. Having a cheese tasting is a great way to help children choose healthy foods. Children love to help make decisions, especially when it comes to food.
The last crucial food group is one that children need about four servings of a day: grains, specifically whole ones. Many children today have a diet full of enriched flour. Enriched flour and breads have very little nutritional value and can lead to diabetes and obesity. If a child is already accustomed to eating enriched foods, slowly integrating whole grains into his or her diet may help the transition. Such as, substituting half of flour in a recipe with whole wheat flour, or half of white rice with whole grain rice.
Children can actually enjoy learning about new foods and how they are broken up into different food groups. At Department of Agriculture has great tools and tips for helping parents and educators teach children the value of good nutrition.