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Feeding Your Child Well: A Guide For Good Nutrition by Age

Developing Healthy Habits by Age:
  • Birth to age 1: In addition to its many health benefits, breastfeeding may help prevent excessive weight gain. Though the exact mechanism is not known, recent studies indicate breastfed babies may be better able to control their own intake and follow their own internal hunger and satiety cues.
  • Ages 2 to 6: Start good habits early. Help shape food preferences by offering a variety of healthy foods. Frequent exposure to healthy foods, encouragement to taste new foods, and positive reinforcement-or praise are the keys to helping your child develop a palate for healthy foods. Allow for and encourage kids' natural tendency to be active and help them build on developing skills.
  • Ages 7 to 12: Encourage kids to be physically active every day, whether through an organized sports team or unstructured activities at school and home. Keep the whole family active through everyday activities like walking the dog, playing in the yard, gardening or riding bikes. Let them be more involved in making good food choices, such as planning and preparing meals or helping to pack their snacks and lunches.
  • Ages 13 to 17: The busy life of a teen, along with the biological cravings for fatty, salty and sweet foods at this age often lead to larger intakes of fast and convenience foods. Try to steer them toward healthier choices like grilled chicken or turkey sandwiches, salads, and smaller sizes when eating away from home. Teach them how to prepare simple, healthy meals and snacks at home. Help them identify their barriers to good nutrition and work together to find strategies to overcome these barriers. Encourage teens to be active every day for at least 60 minutes.
  • All ages: Limit screen time (TV, computer, and video games) to no more than 2 hours per day, and discourage snacking while engaging in any of these activities. Eating should be mindful. Serve a variety of healthy foods (fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy) and eat meals together as often as possible. Encourage kids to have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, limit sugar-sweetened beverages, and eat breakfast every day.

Avoid feeding mistakes by practicing the following:

  • Don't reward kids for good behavior or try to stop bad behavior with sweets or treats. Come up with other solutions to modify their behavior. Over time this can lead to emotional eating or binge eating disorders.
  • Don't force your child to clean his or her plate. Respect your child’s hunger and satiety cues. Even babies who turn away from the bottle or breast send signals that they're full. If kids are satisfied, don't force them to continue eating. Reinforce the idea that they should only eat when they're hungry and stop when they are full.
  • Don’t label foods as "bad foods" or completely eliminate all sweets and favorite snacks from kids' diets. Labeling or eliminating foods often backfires and makes those foods more enticing. Kids may overeat these forbidden foods outside the home or sneak them in on their own. Instead, teach your child that there is a place in the diet for all foods when eaten in moderation.
There are three behaviors associated with a reduced risk of obesity:
  • Getting the recommended amount of sleep each night
  • Watching less than two hours of television each day
  • Regularly eating meals with the family
The key to building healthy lifestyle habits and keeping kids of all ages at a healthy weight is taking a whole-family approach. Make healthy eating and exercise a family affair. Get your kids involved in the process by recruiting them to help you plan and prepare healthy meals, as well as taking them along when you go grocery shopping so they can learn how to read nutrition facts labels and make good food choices. These practices allow dialogue about why eating healthy is important, and build important skills your children will take with them when they leave the nest.
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