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Help Your Child Develop Good Attitudes About Eating


Don't place your child on a restrictive diet.

Children should never be placed on a restrictive diet to lose weight, unless a doctor supervises one for medical reasons. Limiting what children eat may be harmful to their health and interfere with their growth and development.

To promote proper growth and development and prevent overweight, parents should offer the whole family a wide variety of foods from each of the food groups displayed in the Food Guide Pyramid. The Food Guide Pyramid applies to healthy people ages 2 years and older.

The Food Guide Pyramid illustrates the importance of balance among food groups in a daily eating pattern.

  • Most of the foods in your diet should come from the grain products group (6-11 servings), the vegetable group (3-5 servings), and the fruit group (2-4 servings).
  • Your diet should include moderate amounts of foods from the milk group (2-3 servings) and the meat and beans group (2-3 servings).
  • Foods that provide few nutrients and are high in fat and sugars should be used sparingly.�Fat should not be restricted in the diets of children younger than 2 years of age.

One Serving* Equals

BREAD, CEREAL, RICE & PASTA GROUP

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 ounce of ready to eat cereal
  • 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta

MILK, YOGURT, & CHEESE GROUP

  • 1 cup of milk or yogurt
  • 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese
  • 2 ounces of processed cheese

VEGETABLE GROUP

  • 1 cup of raw vegetables or 1/2 cup of frozen leafy leafy vegetables (cooked)
  • 1/2 cup of other vegetables - cooked or chopped raw
  • 3/4 cup of vegetable juice

MEAT, POULTRY, FISH, DRY BEANS, & NUTS GROUP

  • 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish
  • 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans or 1 egg counts as 1 ounce of lean meat
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or 1/3 cup of nuts count as 1 ounce of meat

FRUIT GROUP

  • 1 medium apple, banana, or orange
  • 1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
  • 3/4 cup of fruit juice

NOTE: Serving sizes are for children and adults ages 2 years and older. A range of servings is given for each food group. The smaller number is for children who consume about 1,300 calories a day, such as 2-4 years of age. The larger number is for those who consume about 3,000 calories a day, such as boys 15-18 years of age.

If you are unsure about how to select and prepare a variety of foods for your family, consult a physician or registered dietitian for nutrition counseling.

Carefully cut down on the amount of fat in your family's diet.

Reducing fat is a good way to cut calories without depriving your child of nutrients. Simple ways to cut the fat in your family's diet include eating lowfat or nonfat dairy products, poultry without skin and lean meats, and lowfat or fat-free breads and cereals. Making small changes to the amount of fat in your family's diet is a good way to prevent excess weight gain in children: however, major efforts to change your child's diet should be supervised by a health professional. In addition, fat should not be restricted in the diets of children younger than 2 years of age. After that age, children should gradually adopt a diet that contains no more than 30 percent of calories from fat by the time the child is about 5 years old.

Don't overly restrict sweets or treats.

While it is important to be aware of the fat, salt, and sugar content of the foods you serve, all foods-even those that are high in fat or sugar-have a place in the diet, in moderation.

Guide your family's choices rather than dictate foods.

Make a wide variety of healthful foods available in the house. This practice will help your children learn how to make healthy food choices.

Encourage your child to eat slowly.

A child can detect hunger and fullness better when eating slowly.

Eat meals together as a family as often as possible.

Try to make mealtimes pleasant with conversation and sharing, not a time for scolding or arguing. If mealtimes are unpleasant, children may try to eat faster to leave the table as soon as possible. They then may learn to associate eating with stress.

Involve children in food shopping and preparing meals.

These activities offer parents hints about children's food preferences, teach children about nutrition, and provide children with a feeling of accomplishment. In addition, children may be more willing to eat or try foods that they help prepare.

Plan for snacks.

Continuous snacking may lead to overeating, but snacks that are planned at specific times during the day can be part of a nutritious diet, without spoiling a child's appetite at mealtimes. You should make snacks as nutritious as possible, without depriving your child of occasional chips or cookies, especially at parties or other social events. Below are some ideas for healthy snacks.

Healthy Snacks

  • Fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables and fruit served either plain or with lowfat or fat-free cheese or yogurt�
  • Dried fruit, served with nuts or sunflower or pumpkin seeds��
  • Breads and crackers made with enriched flour and whole grains, served with fruit spread or fat-free cheese�
  • Frozen desserts, such as nonfat or lowfat ice cream, frozen yogurt, fruit sorbet, popsicles, water ice, and fruit juice bars�

*Children of preschool age can easily choke on foods that are hard to chew, small and round, or sticky, such as hard vegetables, whole grapes, hard chunks of cheese, rasins, nuts, and seeds, and popcorn. Its important to carefully select snacks for children in this age group.

Discourage eating meals or snacks while watching TV.

Try to eat only in designated areas of your home, such as the dining room or kitchen. Eating in front of the TV may make it difficult to pay attention to feelings of fullness, and may lead to overeating.

Try not to use food to punish or reward your child.

Withholding food as a punishment may lead children to worry that they will not get enough food. For example, sending children to bed without any dinner may cause them to worry that they will go hungry. As a result, children may try to eat whenever they get a chance. Similarly, when foods, such as sweets, are used as a reward, children may assume that these foods are better or more valuable than other foods. For example, telling children that they will get dessert if they eat all of their vegetables sends the wrong message about vegetables.

Make sure your child's meals outside the home are balanced.

Find out more about your school lunch program, or pack your child's lunch to include a variety of foods.�Also, select healthier items when dining at restaurants.

Set a good example.

Children are good learners, and they learn best by example.�Setting a good example for your kids by eating a variety of foods and being physically active will teach your children healthy lifestyle habits that they can follow for the rest of their lives.




The Weight-control Information Network (WIN) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. WIN provides information on weight control, obesity, and nutritional disorders. WIN responds to requests for information; develops, reviews, and distributes publications; and develops communications strategies to encourage individuals to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
last updated: 10 February 1998




last update: February 2009



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