Fries the only vegetable for many toddlers

n Childhood obesity expert gives tips for healthier meal times

French fries as a vegetable? Sure, they’re made from potatoes, but that doesn’t make them good for you. But according to a new study, fries are the vegetable most often fed to toddlers older than 15 months of age. In fact, almost a quarter of toddlers eat them at least once a day.

“Raising a toddler is stressful, and many parents tend to make their lives easier by finding a food their child will eat and sticking with it,” says Frances Berg, noted childhood obesity expert and author of the book Underage & Overweight (Hatherleigh Press, $24.95). “The problem is that a young child who is repeatedly given unhealthy foods and not exposed to as many healthy ones will be less likely to make healthy eating choices as he or she gets older.”

The Feeding of Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS), which studied the eating habits of 3,000 children aged 4 months to 2 years, has called attention to the lack of fruits and vegetables fed to young children. Even with fries counted as a vegetable, half of toddlers aged one to two years ate no vegetables at lunch, and one-third had no vegetables at dinner.

Want to make sure your children are eating right? Berg gives the following tips for stress-free healthy feeding:

Snack time is as important as meal time

Because toddlers have small stomachs that limit the amount they can eat at mealtime, they get much of their nutrition from snacks. Unfortunately, the snacks they’re eating aren’t always that nutritious: cookies, chips, and crackers top the list. Instead, serve healthy—and tasty—snacks like fruit and cheese.

Add foods, don’t take away

Don’t suddenly decide you’re going to cut everything unhealthy out of your family’s diet. Instead, introduce more healthy foods and phase out unhealthy ones. That way, your child is less likely to feel deprived and more likely to react positively to the change.

Variety is the spice of life

Toddlers can be picky eaters, but the earlier you expose children to a variety of foods, the more likely they will be to eat a varied diet as they get older. Don’t force your child to eat any particular food. Instead, offer your child a variety of healthy foods at mealtime and let him or her decide which to eat.

Set a good example

Be enthusiastic about eating a variety of healthy foods. Everyone knows that nutrition is important for young children, but many parents are so stressed that they forget to eat well themselves. Eat vegetables and drink milk with your dinner instead of soda, and your children will be more likely to follow your lead. An added bonus: eating better will give you the energy you need to keep up with your kids!

If at first you don’t succeed

If your child won’t eat certain foods, try again! Studies have shown that a new food often has to be served eight to fifteen times before a child will accept it. But according to FITS, only six to nine percent of parents

offer a new food even six times. Relying on the same few foods you know your child will eat may seem easier, but it makes it less likely that your child will have a balanced diet.

For more tips on raising a healthy weight child, pick up a copy of Underage & Overweight at your local bookstore or library.

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