How to Raise a Healthy Eater (in a Junk-Food World)

Is Your Child's Diet Really Healthy?

Despite your best intentions, your kids may not be eating as well as you think they are. Here are five top diet misconceptions and how to fix them.

"Giving my child an occasional treat is no big deal."

Reality check: Last week there was the pizza run when you were too tired to cook, the cookies at a playdate, and the sundaes at Grandma's house. "Lots of parents think they're only treating sometimes, but they don't consider how it all adds up," says Bethany Thayer, RD, a spokesperson for the ADA.

Simple solutions: For a week, jot down all the goodies you give your child. Ask your daycare provider, mother-in-law, and anyone else who cares for her to do the same. If the number of cupcakes and French fries pales in comparison with the servings of vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains, you're doing great. Otherwise, find places to cut back.

"I know giving kids too many fruity drinks can make them fat, but I only buy brands that are 100 percent juice."

Reality check: Fruit juice is certainly healthier than soda, but it has plenty of sugar and calories, and filling up on it means kids may not be hungry for more nutritious meals. Plus, children who drink unfortified juice instead of milk miss out on calcium and vitamins A and D.

Simple solutions: Limit juice to four to eight ounces per day, and serve it only at meals (although milk is certainly a better choice). Between meals, offer whole fruit (which provides fiber and helps kids learn to like a variety of food textures) and water, says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, RD, a spokesperson for the ADA.

"I make sure my child eats big meals because I don't want him snacking on junk."

Reality check: Making kids clean their plates prevents them from learning to respect their body's hunger cues. "Kids have an innate ability to eat until they're full and then stop," explains Jamieson-Petonic. And don't demonize snacking -- because kids' bellies are smaller than adults', they can't eat nearly as much at one sitting and need regular refueling throughout the day.

Simple solutions: Every two to three hours, offer a nutritious snack, such as low-fat string cheese and fruit or whole-grain crackers with peanut butter.

"I have to make separate meals for my child because she doesn't like what we eat."

Reality check: You don't have to become a short-order cook, says Jamieson-Petonic. Kids need to try a variety of foods, colors, flavors, and textures. It's tough to stick to one dinner menu, but you can do it: Your child will eat when she's hungry.

Simple solutions: Don't give up on a food too quickly. Kids often have to taste a food 10 times before they like it. If your child has a friend who's an adventurous eater, ask her mom if your daughter can eat at their house sometimes. When kids see someone they respect gobbling up broccoli, for example, they're more likely to try it too.

"I only give my child low-fat cookies and chips, so I don't worry about how many he eats."

Reality check: They may be low-fat, but they've still got calories. Letting your child eat as many as he wants can sabotage his hunger for real meals and encourage poor eating habits that may lead to weight gain down the road.

Simple solutions: Think wholesome rather than low-fat. When possible, make your own: Substitute whole-wheat pastry flour for half of the flour in any baking recipe for a fiber boost. Or, whip up one of Thayer's favorite snacks: mini muffins made from chocolate cake mix and a 15-ounce can of pureed pumpkin. (Just two ingredients -- mix and bake!)

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