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Best Ways to Build Healthy Eating Habits

How to encourage a love of good, healthy food in your grade-school age child

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Grade-schoolers can fall anywhere in a wide spectrum when it comes to healthy eating and food preferences. Some may still be picky eaters while others may have become adventuresome gourmands. But no matter what kind of healthy eating habits your child has developed, you can help shape his preferences and attitudes toward food by guiding him toward healthy eating habits.

1. Go food shopping together to show her how to make choices for healthy eating.

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To show your child healthy eating choices, fill your cart with fresh produce and cut down on processed foods. Make a game out of picking different colors of fruits and vegetables. Think about dishes you can make in the coming week, such as a stir fry (green broccoli, yellow and red peppers, orange carrots, and so on).

2. Let your kids help you cook.

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Whatever age your children are, they can help out in the kitchen. Your kindergartener may not be able to chop vegetables, but he can certainly tear up lettuce for a salad or put bread in a basket. Your 9 or 10-year-old can stir sauces or measure out ingredients. You’ll be glad you encouraged culinary habits early when your grade-schooler grows into a teen who can skillfully whip up a delicious dinner for the whole family.

3. Don’t stress about the amount of food he eats.

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He may polish off everything on his plate one day and then eat two peas and declare that he’s done the next. This is perfectly normal behavior for a growing grade-schooler. Make sure you don’t make him feel bad for not finishing everything on his plate. And head off problems at the pass by offering smaller portions (you can always give him seconds if he finishes).

4. Encourage smart snacking.

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Even if your child is served a favorite dish for dinner, she may not eat it if she’s snacked too close to mealtime and isn’t hungry. Don’t let her snack at least an hour before dinner, and if she does have something, make it as healthy and light as possible -- say, baby carrots with hummus or apple slices. For more ideas, read this article on after-school snacks

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5. Avoid the allure of bribes.

It can certainly be tempting to say no TV, dessert, or whatever else he wants unless he eats his dinner. But this can create an uneasy relationship with food in your child. Instead of making him feel pressured into eating when he doesn’t feel like it, give him choices that are more likely to go down easy.

6. Don’t ban junk food.

This doesn’t mean allowing your grade-schooler to eat a candy bar a day. Limiting processed food that’s high in sugar and calories is a good idea. But if you try to forbid so much as a lollipop in your home, your child is more likely to scarf up all the sugar he can find at a friend’s house. A better way to handle sugary snacks is to let him have a piece of candy or chocolate once in a while, and if he clamors for something sweet, try to steer him toward healthy snacks such as nuts with raisins the rest of the time.

7. Set a good example.

If you ban your child from drinking soda and then guzzle down a Diet Coke over dinner, it sends a mixed message. Examine your own attitude toward food (do you try healthy recipes or eat fatty foods and then express remorse and worry about your own weight?). If you are willing to find new ways to get creative with healthy choices, your grade-schooler will be more likely to follow in your footsteps.
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