NMC Commentary

Can We Help Shape Our Pre-Schoolers’ Future Through Healthy Eating?

Yes!  Our personal approach to eating is based in habits that start young, even before we start school as children. As we rise as a community to better health through RiseVT, we need to remember to include our children, too – as they are our future! Now that school is back in session, it is a good time to pause and look at how we can help our youngest children explore foods and adopt healthy eating habits that will serve them well as they grow through childhood into (healthier) adults.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a wonderful website for “Choose My Plate” at www.choosemyplate.gov that shares a remarkable amount of easy to understand information in an easy to navigate format, including ten tips for helping pre-schoolers develop healthy eating habits right from the start.  These include:

“Build healthy mealtime habits: Preschoolers love to copy what their parents do. They mimic your table manners, your willingness to try new foods, and your preferences. Take a break from the TV or phone and build healthy mealtime habits together.”

“Plan meals and snacks: Make time for three meals and one or two snacks every day. Offer choices from each food group—fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and protein foods — throughout the day so your preschooler gets the nutrition he or she needs.”

“Make meals enjoyable: Eat meals with your children whenever possible. Let them help you prepare the meal. Make conversation about something that made them laugh. Keep mealtime upbeat and stress free.”

“Try to get two food groups in a snack: Pair sliced tomato with low-fat cheese or add nut butter to a 100% whole-wheat mini bagel.”

“Keep things positive: Talk about the color, feel, or flavor of foods so they sound appealing to your preschooler. Discourage others from making negative comments about foods during meals.”

“Develop taste buds: When preschoolers develop a taste for many foods, it’s easier to plan meals. Keep in mind that it may take a dozen tries for a child to accept a new food.”

“Visit the market: Shopping can teach your preschooler about food and healthy eating — talk about where foods come from and how they grow.”

“Let children practice serving themselves: Include smaller cuts of fish or meat and offer small serving utensils so they get just enough during meals. Encourage them to ask for more if they are still hungry.”

“Beverages are important, too: Water helps to quench your preschooler’s thirst, and milk provides nutrients for growth. Offer water or fat-free or low-fat milk as beverage choices instead of sugary drinks.”

“Help them know when they are full: Encourage your child to stop eating when he or she is full rather than when the plate is clean. When your child is not interested in the meal, excuse him or her from the table.”

“Reward with attention, not treats: Rewarding children with sweet desserts or snacks may encourage them to think that treats are better than other foods. Comfort and reward with care and praise, not food.”

As you can see, there are many easy, practical, affordable ways to help a child discover new foods and develop healthy eating habits.  Here in northwestern Vermont, we are so fortunate to have vibrant local farm stands and farmers’ markets. These make great destinations for a fun adventure with young children. Purchasing fresh, healthy, local produce from area farmers not only brings delicious food to your family and helps your child develop healthy eating habits, it enhances our local economy and strengthens our sense of community.  Talk about a fantastic win-win!  For more information on local resources, please visit our community’s Healthy Roots Collaborative at http://healthyrootsvt.org/

Healthier eating is such an important step on our journeys to a healthier future.  I hope these tips help you with ideas for how to involve children in creating healthy eating habits – and that they inspire you to rise right along with them as a healthy family!  As you do, please join us through www.RiseVT.com, connect with RiseVT through social media, and watch for upcoming RiseVT promotions in the local media!

— Jill Berry Bowen, NMC Chief Executive Officer