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Childhood is critical for building healthy eating behaviors that can help your child grow and prevent chronic diseases.
That’s why Healthy Eating Research (HER) has developed new guidelines that can help parents decide not only what to feed young kids aged 2 to 8, but how to feed them and introduce lifelong healthy habits.
These guidelines apply to all parents, but it can be particularly helpful to Latino parents, as Latino kids are more likely to develop chronic health issues like high blood pressure and obesity and are often in schools with few healthy options.
How Should You Encourage Kids to Try New Foods?
To create these guidelines, HER gathered a national panel of 15 experts in child development and nutrition.
They developed strategies to help parents get their children to try and taste new food, set them up for healthy eating success, and raise healthy and independent eaters.
To encourage kids to try new foods, the experts recommend these tips:
Pair a new food with familiar flavors.
- Sometimes offering new foods, like veggies, with well-liked dips or dressings or seasoning them in a familiar way will encourage kids to try new foods and may even help with acceptance.
- Even providing just a few small bites of a new food may be enough to get kids to like new foods while limiting wasted food.
Get kids involved and make mealtime fun.
- Engaging kids in the meal prep process provides opportunities for little ones to touch, smell, and explore new foods.
- Improving familiarity and comfort with new foods can be an important step before tasting.
These are better strategies than pressuring children to eat specific foods or using food as a reward or to soothe emotions.
HER emphasizes the importance of repetition when trying new foods.
“The single most effective strategy to get kids to eat healthy food is repeated exposure. Kids may need to try something 10-15 times before knowing if they like it or not!” according to HER’s guidelines.
How Can You Establish Healthy Eating Patterns for Life?
To set kids up for healthy eating success, HER experts had several tips.
Create routines around eating as much as your family’s schedule allows and involve kids in implementing these routines:
- Enjoy meals as a family whenever possible.
- Maintain a meal and snack routine to limit snacking all day long.
Make healthy foods and drinks available to children throughout the day.
- Keep healthy foods out on the counter where they are easily seen and within reach.
- Always start snack and mealtime by offering water and healthy food first.
- Limit the number of unhealthy sweets and snacks in the house.
Provide guidance that supports healthy choices.
- Let your children see you make healthy choices for meals and snacks.
- Avoid pressuring kids to finish everything on their plate at mealtimes.
“Structure food environments in ways that provide children with abundant opportunities to learn about and have positive experiences with new foods,” according to HER’s guidelines.
How Can You Create an Environment for Children to Become Healthy, Independent Eaters?
To raise healthy and independent eaters, HER experts had a few recommendations.
Get kids involved.
- Before meal prep, let kids choose which vegetable to try based on what’s available at home.
- Let your child help with food prep. Even the youngest can help by washing and sorting foods.
- Have conversations about new foods. Ask kids what they think about foods tried (for example, “Is it thumbs up, thumbs down, or in-between?”) and honor their answers.
Make healthy choices easy for kids by keeping healthy foods in sight, in reach, and easy to eat.
- Keep cut vegetables in the refrigerator or fresh fruit on the counter for a quick snack.
- Portion healthy snacks into individual-serving size containers and leave them in a basket on the bottom shelf of the pantry (at kids’ eye-level).
Help kids learn to identify and listen to their hunger or fullness cues.
- Talk to kids about how their stomach feels before, during, and after eating.
“Support children’s independence in learning to accept healthy foods by giving them options and finding ways for them to participate,” according to HER’s guidelines.
Why Are Early Nutrition Habits Important for Latino Kids?
Building healthy eating habits is particularly important for Latino kids.
This may be difficult when many Latino kids have limited access to healthy foods.
“Latino neighborhoods tend to have less access to healthy foods, which negatively affects health, development, academic performance, and overall wellbeing,” according to a Salud America! research review.
Many schools in Latino neighborhoods have weaker policies for snacks and drinks.
“Latinos have more access than whites to unhealthy foods and drinks in school stores, snack lines, and vending machines. Latino students ate or drank 47 more ‘low-nutrient’ calories per day than their peers,” according to a Salud America! research review.
That’s why it’s important to establish healthy eating habits and empower kids to make healthy choices for themselves at a young age.
How Can We Help Empower Kids to Eat Healthy?
Kids deserve to grow up healthy with equitable access to nutritious foods and the ability to create healthy habits for themselves.
Unfortunately, that isn’t possible for a lot of Latino families.
We can help advocate for healthy foods and drinks in Latino neighborhoods.
Policies like WIC and SNAP make healthy fruits and vegetables more affordable to low-income families, as do local farmer’s markets.
Heroes like Isabella Jimenez are taking a stand to help kids learn healthy eating by designing an app to teach young people how to cook healthy food!
Increasing access to water and lessening the amount of sugary drinks in school can also make a difference in keeping kids healthy.
Salud America! created an Action Pack to help school leaders push for Water Bottle Fountains.
This refillable water station can boost access to water for Latino and all kids.