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Adults Can Play a Leading Role in Children’s Eating Habits

Promotion of early-life healthy eating starts at the top.

Children and eating

The American Heart Association has released a statement outlining the role that adults can play in helping young children develop better eating habits. The report, published in JAMA, includes key recommendations for parents and other caregivers. The end goal is to reduce the rising tide of childhood obesity and mitigate disease risk later in life. Here are some of the suggestions:

  1. Provide consistent timing for snacks and meals, creating an appropriate structure around food.
  2. Allow children to select which foods they want to eat from a selection of healthy choices. Essentially, this transfers more dietary control from adults to kids. An authoritarian eating environment does not allow a child to develop necessary decision-making skills.
  3. Serve healthy or new foods alongside foods that children already enjoy, as a way to reduce “fussiness.” Children are more likely to accept healthy foods if adults offer them consistently and repeatedly.
  4. Regularly eat healthy foods while dining with children and demonstrate an enthusiastic enjoyment of the foods—a case of following the leader.
  5. Develop knowledge of a child’s verbal or nonverbal hunger and full-ness cues to help assure that the child’s energy intake is appropriate.
  6. Avoid pressuring children to eat more than they wish to eat. This helps them develop better self-regulation habits and reduces the belief that there is a need to eat beyond satiety. For the most part, care-givers should allow kids to choose when they want to  stop eating during a meal.

See also: An App to Help Kids Eat Better


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Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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