How Parents Can Influence Their Child’s Eating Habits

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The first five years

It is estimated that 34.3 percent of American children eat at a fast food restaurant on any given day with their parents. As the old saying goes, “Do as I say and not as I do,” but parents know their children will inevitably follow their example and not their directions.

When it comes to nutrition and providing your child what they need to grow, develop and thrive even into adulthood, you must start early.

As infants, children do not have learned food preferences. They are born predisposed to sweet flavors. Because taste preferences are developed during infancy, it can be a struggle for parents to help children establish a taste for healthy foods during the first five years of life.

Kelley Scanlon, an epidemiologist at the Center for Disease Control and the senior author of recent research on eating habits of children notes that when children didn’t eat fruits and vegetables as infants, they don’t eat them when they’re 6, either.

This may be why many young children reject vegetables like carrots and broccoli. If your child refuses healthy food choices like vegetables, it won’t necessarily always be that way. But during the early years, parents need to cater to the developing palates of their child.

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Let your child refuse what they don’t want

As parents, it’s easy to become frustrated as your child continues to push nutritious meal after meal away. However, it is very important to the development of their long-term eating habits that you do not reprimand them for refusing any foods as they may learn to dislike that food permanently as a result.

Your response to their food preferences is important, and it is vital that you understand that the first five years of a child’s life are a rapid time of both physical growth and change. These are the years that serve as a foundation for an entire lifetime of healthy eating habits.

It is vital for parents to to set the stage for healthy food acceptance as early as pregnancy. An infant can learn to enjoy the taste, smell and flavor of vegetables, grains and even bitter herbs. Scientists call this early experience a “flavor bridge” as it a time when fetuses familiarize themselves with the maternal diet. This type of healthy eating behavior development when started early, can last a lifetime. Your child will thank you with their lasting health and vitality.


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