Fighting Childhood Obesity

Tips for Toddlers

As your child's diet begins to include more adult foods, the challenge really begins! Here's how to keep your little diner hooked on the healthy stuff:

Make fruits and vegetables a priority. Don't let these colorful edibles fall by the wayside during the transition to table foods. Nutritionists recommend that toddlers eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day, just like adults. Aim to include at least one with every meal, including snack time. Melody Osborn of Clinton, Massachusetts, prepares baked sweet-potato fries and veggies with dip as snacks for her 3-year-old. "Cassidy will eat anything she can dip," says Osborn.

Keep portion sizes small. Toddlers don't require many calories, so it's important to serve age-appropriate servings. The general rule of thumb is one tablespoon of each food for each year of age. "Portions that are too large can set up a bad pattern of overeating," says Susan Roberts, PhD, coauthor of Feeding Your Child for Lifelong Health (Bantam, 1999).

Stick to a regular meal schedule. Toddlers as young as 1 year old should eat three meals and just two snacks daily, three to four hours apart. A child who grazes throughout the day can lose the ability to sense real hunger. He may snack out of boredom or to relieve frustration -- a habit that can lead to obesity down the road.

Don't give up. If you already have a little french fry fiend on your hands, it's not too late to make changes. Begin consistently offering healthier alternatives. Research shows that children may need to be exposed to a new food as many as 15 times before accepting it. Judy Musa of Middletown, New Jersey, serves nutritious dishes to her 3-year-old son, Liam, with the persistence of a telemarketer. "He sometimes spits out unfamiliar foods," says Musa, "but he's required to take at least one bite of everything."

Monitor beverages. While obesity can't be blamed on a single food, research shows that kids' surging soda consumption is contributing to the problem. A recent Harvard study, for example, found that drinking more than one glass of sugared soda a day raises a child's risk of becoming obese by 60 percent. Although fruit juice is more nutritious than soda, some juice drinks are little more than sugar water. Stick to 100 percent fruit juice -- it has no added sugar. One 4- to 6-ounce serving per day is plenty for children under age 3.

Be a good role model. If you're constantly slurping soda and eating junk food, your child will grow up thinking that kind of diet is normal. "Kids pay more attention to what you do than to what you say," says Roberts.

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