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Tips for Healthy Eating for Children

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Limit desserts and sweets. Toddlers will get sugar one way or another, so your job is to moderate how much and how often. Research has shown that early introduction to sugary foods encourages sugar cravings in adulthood.

Fruit juice flunks out of the toddler bistro diet. You may think that fruit juice is a healthy option for your child—and it is compared to soda and sugary drinks—but note that fruit juice still has a high sugar content, and it lacks protein. Milk and water are bistro favorites.

Soda pop not! Toddlers should be drinking milk and water. Soda contains empty calories, meaning that its calories are missing vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Soda displaces better beverages like milk from toddler diets and can compromise the immune system, dehydrate, interfere with nutrient absorption, and contribute to obesity.

Water wise. Train your toddler early on to select water from the menu. This refreshment is popular when served in fun cups, and it can be flavored with slices of orange or other fresh fruits. Have refills available in hot weather and during highly active times. Watch for signs of dehydration: dark urine in small amounts, thirst, flushed appearance, headache, fever, tiredness, dry mouth, or fast breathing.

Skip the salt. We get plenty naturally. Use half the salt called for in recipes and choose low-salt brand foods. Oh, and keep that shaker off the table!

Power struggles with food are dead ends. Believe it or not, diet improves with less parental control and more of simply providing a variety of healthy food choices. Trust your toddlers when they act or say that they are full. "Full" signs are turning the head away, throwing or playing with food, eating more slowly, trying to ditch the high chair, feeding the begging dog, and simply not finishing. Focus on offering many types of nutritious foods many times.

Be aware of the eight most typical allergenic foods. The "Bistro Big Eight" include eggs, milk, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, fish, shellfish, and wheat. Be aware of how your toddler may present signs of an allergy. If you suspect a food allergy, eliminate the questionable food(s) and contact your health care provider. Your child may need to be tested for allergies.

Bug-proof your bistro. Practice safe food handling and protect the foods inside your fridge from spoiling by setting the temperature to at least 40 degrees. Pay attention to expiration dates, and cook foods to the proper temperatures. Be sure to keep those little hands clean, too!

Choking checks. Avoid nuts, seeds, popcorn, chips, pretzels, vegetable and fruit skins, whole raw apples and carrots, whole green beans, small dried fruits, whole grapes and cherries, whole olives, berries, melon balls, tough or big pieces of meat, hot dogs, hard cookies and biscuits, globs of peanut butter and nut butters, pickles, and big bites! Toddler diners should be seated when eating and should not giggle or talk while chewing. Cook fruits and veggies according to how many teeth your toddler has, and supervise your toddler while dining.

Avoid trans fats. Breast-feeding moms, all toddlers, and everyone else should completely avoid or at least minimize eating this type of fat. Partially hydrogenated trans fats are commercially altered fats that make oils more stable and increase food's shelf life. They are used in foods such as bakery goods, breads, snacks, and margarines. They contribute to the risk for diabetes and heart disease and interfere with growth and development. Read the labels and stay away from foods with "partially hydrogenated oil" or "trans fats" in the contents.

Low-fat and fat-free products aren't always great for toddlers. Unless special circumstances exist, children under the age of two need full-fat foods and beverages to support healthy brain and body development. After two years of age, you may begin to substitute low-fat products for their full-fat counterparts.

Meats to miss. Avoid bacon, sausages, hot dogs, cured meats, and packaged deli meats. (Freshly sliced meats from the deli are okay.) Besides being high in fat and salty, they contain sodium nitrite, a preservative that can be cancer-causing when these meats are cooked at high temperatures and when sodium nitrite reacts with chemicals in the stomach. Recent data shows that 27 percent of toddlers are eating hot dogs, bacon, and sausage—not a healthy diet!

Pesticide perils. Pesticides not only kill bugs; unfortunately, they may also block toddlers' abilities to absorb nutrients from foods, which interferes with normal weight gain and brain development. Pesticides have also been shown to decrease the normal vitamin and mineral content of some fruits and vegetables. Be sure to wash and scrub all fruits and veggies using warm water and a little liquid dish soap. Don't forget to wash produce with rinds, like cantaloupes and oranges, because your cutting knife transfers pesticides and bacteria into the fruit! Remove outer leaves and break apart broccoli and cauliflower before washing.

Whenever you can, opt for organic! Look for the USDA 100 Percent Certified Organic seal on foods. It means that no artificial ingredients or preservatives are present and that foods are grown without conventional pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, irradiation, or genetically modified foods. Organic foods have also been found to contain more nutrients than regular produce.

Plastics in the news. Toddlers are vulnerable to certain chemicals (dioxins and DEHA) found in some plastic wraps, which may disrupt their normal hormone, immune, cognitive, and growth development. These chemical plasticizers are absorbed from plastic wrap into fatty and acidic foods, especially in the presence of heat and light. Leave an inch or more space between food and plastic wrap when storing food in the refrigerator or heating in the microwave. Store leftovers in glass containers or baggies, repackage plastic-wrapped store-bought foods, and take out foods packaged in Styrofoam containers when you get home. And throw out those old plastic containers!

Bravo for breakfast! Studies show that toddlers who eat breakfast are better behaved, have increased attention spans, have better problem-solving skills, have boosted metabolisms, and have a lower risk for obesity than those who skip this meal.

The case for carbohydrates. Although carbohydrates are the diet buzzword of the twenty-first century, toddlers need them! Carbs are the brain's first choice for fuel. They get a bad rap because of the "refining" process, how they are cooked, and the fact that they are often over-eaten. Go for 100 percent whole grains in breads, rice, pasta, and cereals. Carbohydrates are also in beans, fruits, and vegetables, especially the starchy veggies like corn, potatoes, and peas.

Protein. Toddlers need protein for growth, tissue repair, muscles, hair, skin, hormones, healthy bones, and healthy immune systems. Protein also helps fight plaque buildup on teeth! Foods with a protein punch include meats, fish, and dairy products.

Calcium. Calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth! Only 50 percent of children ages one to five meet the recommended daily amount for calcium, and it ranks as one of the most common nutrient deficiencies. Not to worry: one cup of milk plus one-half cup of yogurt will satisfy your toddler's daily calcium requirement.

A side of supplements. It's easy to go overboard when considering the wide array of supplements available in today's market. Toddlers should get the bulk of their nutrients from their actual food rather than from using nutritional supplements as an excuse to eat candy and french fries. While supplements can be helpful, just don't use them as a substitute for a healthy, balanced diet.

Incorporating iron. Iron from meats, poultry, and fish is more easily absorbed by humans than iron from plant sources. Vitamin C foods and foods high in protein increase iron absorption. If you have a famous spaghetti sauce recipe, try cooking it in a cast-iron pot. This is another way to add iron to your veggie-based foods.

Everything tastes better outside! Make simple picnics and have your toddler help you find just the right spot to enjoy your outdoor dining! Older toddlers can help choose and prepare healthy selections for the picnic. Pack it up in a fun, colorful container. Your children may surprise you and try that piece of broccoli that they typically reject if it is served outside with a picnic.

Make your kitchen the gathering place for family fun. Many recipes are handed down over generations and are like diaries for families. Learning the basics of good health and nutrition is that secret extra ingredient that you can share with your child.

Praise them! Reinforce healthy eating with praise and role modeling. You'll be amazed how far this will take you.

Keep a sharp eye on toddler tubbiness. (Baby fat is fine, obesity is not.) Some cultures believe that chubby children are healthier. On the contrary, clinically overweight toddlers are in greater danger of developing chronic diseases. They also battle peer ridicule and poor self-esteem.

Article Reviewed: August 15, 2012
Copyright © 2014 Healthy Magazine

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