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Start Healthy Eating Habits Early

Model Good Choices, Get Kids Involved

“What we learn as children affects our choices as adults,” said Karen Mohn, RD, LDN, Community Wellness Coordinator/Dietitian at CalvertHealth Medical Center. “Habits learned at a young age are hard to break, so parents should start modeling healthy eating when children are very young.”

In 2011, the food pyramid that had guided a generation on the components of a healthy diet evolved into “ChooseMyPlate,” with half devoted to fruits and vegetables, one quarter each of grains and proteins, with a small side of dairy. The goal of the dietary guidelines is to emphasize that the choices we make every day matter to our health. To get helpful tips and for more resources, go to: www.choosemyplate.gov.

What Makes Up a Healthy Diet

“Young children shouldn’t be ‘dieting,’” said Mohn. They shouldn’t be ‘on’ a diet as if it is a temporary thing, either. Think of a diet as ‘what you eat’ instead of being restrictive. Children should have a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins and dairy products.

Children should not have a diet where the majority of the foods they consume are processed foods, foods with empty calories, foods with added sugar and salt and highsugar sodas and fruit juices.

“Added salt and sugar, in the extent it’s added to processed foods, is not needed in order to develop, physically or mentally, and it may be detrimental. Having a diet high in salt and sugar at a young age may contribute to obesity and other chronic diseases as adults,” said Mohn.


  • Offer a variety of foods and keep offering them. Just because a child didn’t like something at one time doesn’t mean they are never going to like it. Or, try offering food in different formats—raw, steamed, roasted, etc.
  • Your child may not want to try new foods. When introducing children to new foods let your kids try small portions of new foods you enjoy.

Go Grocery Shopping with Facts

With so much emphasis on ingredients and reading labels, it can be confusing and time-consuming for parents to choose healthy options for their children.

“Fill up your cart with items that have no labeling—fruits, vegetables, lean meats. If it has a nutrition label, you need to read it and understand it,” said Mohn.

If packaging claims the product is “low fat,” that doesn’t mean it isn’t loaded with simple carbohydrates, added sugars and salt. If packaging claims, “no added sugar” it might still be sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners.

“If food manufacturers take out one thing, they are typically adding more of something else to make their products tasty,” said Mohn.

  • Let your kids be “produce pickers.” Let them pick out fruits and veggies at the store.
  • Have your child help you prepare meals. Children learn about food and get excited about tasting food when they help make meals. Let them add ingredients, scrub veggies or help stir.

Plan, Prioritize and Model Mealtime

The biggest stumbling blocks to a nutritious diet are planning, prioritizing and modeling healthy eating. Meal planning or a food-prep day are great ways to make sure your children have access to healthy meals. For on-the-go families, planning ahead can also mean keeping a small cooler ready with snacks to help tide children over until you can get home to prepare a sit-down, nutritious meal for the family. “It doesn’t have to be more expensive to eat healthy if you shop wisely and meal plan,” said Mohn.

  • Offer choices. Rather than ask, “Do you want broccoli for dinner?” ask “Which would you like for dinner, broccoli or cauliflower?”
  • Offer the same foods for the whole family. Serve the same meal to adults and kids. Let them see you enjoy healthy foods. Talk about the colors, shapes and textures on the plate.

Pediatricians, primary care physicians, cardiologists, oncologists, dermatologists and endocrinologists already know nutrition guidelines help prevent or treat most chronic diseases including heart disease and diabetes—if families adopt a healthy diet, they will lessen the risks of ever developing chronic diseases.

Talk to your pediatrician to learn more about how to provide a nutritional diet for your child at every stage of their development. For more information on nutritional guidelines, visit ChooseMyPlate.com. For hands-on help in understanding nutrition and meal planning, check out health and wellness classes and events through the CalvertHealth Community Wellness Department at CalvertHealthMedicine.org/Classes.
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