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Start children early with healthy habits

Posted: June 29, 2014 - 12:08am
Lauren Belcher, a registered and licensed dietician and the public relations coordinator for the Augusta District Dietetic Association, recommends instilling healthy eating habits in children.   Photo by Jim Blaylock
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Lauren Belcher, a registered and licensed dietician and the public relations coordinator for the Augusta District Dietetic Association, recommends instilling healthy eating habits in children.

Eating healthful and enjoying the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables is easy this time of year. One local dietician has tips on how to make even the youngest eaters develop healthful eating habits that will last a lifetime.

“I am a huge advocate for starting kids out early for eating healthy,” said Lauren Belcher, a registered and licensed dietician and the public relations coordinator for the Augusta District Dietetic Association. “Kids are so impressionable that sometimes they adopt unhealthy eating habits from an early age.”

Eating healthy can be fun and easy, according to Belcher, who also serves on the board of directors of Augusta Locally Grown. She says if kids see other children eating healthy, they are more likely to be receptive to the idea of trying a new food.

Belcher said sometimes parents are the obstacle to their children developing healthy habits. For instance, if parents make faces when their child tries something new, it gives off the vibe that it’s not going to be tasty.

“Parents need to let children know that it’s OK to eat healthy and that it can be fun and interesting,” she said. “They can create a lifestyle for them that, as they get older, can be easier to adapt to. Children should want to eat healthy, not only because it’s good for them, but because it makes their body feel good.”

Involving children in the process of preparing the food is one way to draw interest from them. For instance, breaking kale into smaller pieces and watching it bake to make kale chips will elicit a greater desire to try the snack rather than just making them and putting them in front of the child.

“There’s a pride factor that comes in helping prepare food,” said Belcher. “Getting the child involved in the preparation and not making them feel like eating it is a requirement is important. A lot of time it’s a mental thing.”

Perhaps they didn’t like the way something was made. Discuss what they didn’t like about it; was it the taste, look, texture? And, then explore ways to make a new dish using the same ingredient.

It’s also important to remember that a child’s pallet changes over time, so reintroducing something they don’t like now as they get older is advised. Sometimes younger children aren’t as receptive to the more bitter vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and kale as they are when they get older.

Suggestions for healthy snacks using the season’s bounty include frozen fruits, such as blueberries, grapes and peaches and kale chips. Not only are these items packed full of vitamins and minerals, but they encourage healthy eating from an early age. And for Belcher, that’s the biggest part of the battle.

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