The habits we form when we are young are some of the most fundamental and lasting. We learn about the world around us by observing the choices, behaviours and responses of our caregivers – what an opportunity to teach your children positive habits from the start! Our nutritional habits are among the most foundational habits we develop – from the food we eat to what we reach for when thirst strikes. Here are some ways that you can help your children develop a healthy nutritional lifestyle that could stay with them throughout their lives.
As caregivers, our first opportunity to teach our children about nutrition happens even before they take their first mouthful of food! Babies are taking in our modeling behaviour as they observe our eating habits. This means that just sitting around the dinner table can begin to shape your child’s understanding of food and food culture. As they watch their family sit around the table, they begin to make associations about when and where we eat and how it’s done!
The most important thing you can do for your child’s nutrition is to set a positive example right from the start. This means modelling a healthy diet rich in vitamins, proteins and other nutrients. Reaching for healthy snacks like carrots or celery rather than chips and candy shows our children that nature offers us everything that we need to keep our bodies healthy and feeling good.
When starting your baby on solids, start with purees and avoid sweet foods until they’ve developed a taste for other less sweet foods, like peas beans and avocado. Your baby is one smart cookie – and is likely to refuse vegetables if they begin with a diet of strawberry and peach purees, for example… and who can blame them?!
Always opt for water or breastmilk/formula over sweet drinks like fruit juice. Although fruit juice may be derived from a healthy fruit, juice is devoid of the healthy fiber that accompanies a fruit when it is consumed in its entirety. Furthermore, naturally occurring sugars are still sugars. Limit fruit juices to only a few ounces a day and opt for water between meals. Never send baby to bed with a bottle full of juice or milk. The sugars contained in these substances contribute significantly to cases of pediatric tooth decay. If your baby needs a bottle at night, fill theirs with water.
Sometimes Food vs. Anytime Food
When helping your children understand how and why we make the nutritional choices that we make, it can be helpful to explain this concept as ‘sometimes’ food vs. ‘anytime food’. Anytime foods are the foods that we want kids to have access to throughout the day at their leisure. These are whole foods that offer a powerful nutritional punch. Anytime foods are foods like apples, carrots, cucumber and other fruits and vegetables. Sometimes foods, however, represent the foods that we should consume in moderation. This includes foods like sweets, chocolates, cookies or other such delights. These foods are sometimes foods because they are foods that should not be offered every day, or that should be offered once your child has filled up on anytime foods.
Our children learn best when they can mirror our behaviours. This is a particularly useful concept where oral hygiene is concerned. Although children may not love the idea of brushing their teeth, they may be excited to try if their parents have modelled this habit frequently in the home.
While you brush your teeth, it can be helpful to show your child what you’re doing, and if they are old enough to, they can hold their very own baby toothbrush. Although they are not likely to do much more than chew on the bristles, this exercise is invaluable in terms of getting your child used to the idea of oral hygiene. Besides, your child is likely to feel like such a big boy or girl, beaming with pride, as they participate!
Meeting Your Dentist
Did you know that dentists can begin their relationship with your child before all their teeth are in? Dentists love to see your children as early as possible to start getting them familiar with the clinical environment and to develop rapport. When kids get started at the dentist early, they are more likely to look forward to seeing their dentist and their dental team. Children whose first experience at the dentist’s office is to undergo a procedure such as a dental filling are less likely to look forward to the dentist than if they’ve had an opportunity to develop a trust-based relationship with the team first. Contact our clinic for more information about how and when children should be first seen by a dentist. An early and positive start sets your child up for many positive experiences to come.