If you have or are otherwise involved in feeding children between the ages of 2 and 11, help is on the way. Just this month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) released a new position paper to provide nutrition guidance to parents, pediatricians, educators and anyone who feeds 2- to 11-year-old children. According to the paper, children "should achieve optimal physical and cognitive development, maintain healthy weights, enjoy food, and reduce the risk of chronic disease through appropriate eating habits and participation in regular physical activity."
Although AND acknowledges that obesity rates among children appear to be leveling off, it suggests that we still need to learn more to help children achieve and maintain healthy body weights, reduce the prevalence of food insecurity, help children consume more nutrients they tend to fall short on (including fiber, calcium, vitamin D, and potassium), and reduce diet-related risk factors that can develop early and make them more likely to develop chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, and osteoporosis.
Reviewing children's eating habits, AND highlights some positive childhood nutrition trends that emerged between 1999-2000 and 2009-2010. For example, average intakes of calories, fat, sodium, and sugar* have gone down, whereas intakes of calcium and fiber went up. Despite these improvements, AND concludes that many American children ages 2 to 11 years fail to meet recommendations for fruit, vegetable, grain, or dairy groups; they also tend to exceed recommended intakes for total fat and saturated fat. To help reverse these trends, AND recommends that those who feed children receive education about mealtime behaviors that promote the adoption of healthier eating behaviors early in life. It also suggests working with, when possible, credible nutrition professionals including registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) and dietetic technicians, registered (DTRs) who are well-versed in child nutrition.
Although there are many factors that influence children's eating habits—these include marketing food (such as fast food) and beverages generally and specifically to children, screen time, physical activity and exercise, sleep, and coping skills—parents can play a key role in helping children get off on the right foot when it comes to eating well and meeting nutrient needs. Here are some suggestions outlined in the AND position paper to help you get started:
- Using a responsive feeding approach by which a parent or caregiver recognizes and responds to the child's hunger and satiety cues;
- Enjoying family meals—these may benefit children's beliefs and attitudes about nutrition and reduce the risk of overweight;
- Repeatedly exposing children to nutritious foods—offering children a variety of nutrient-rich foods often, even if they reject them at first, can encourage children to try and even learn to like new or previously disliked foods;
- Modeling healthful eating habits—for example, eating fruits and vegetables in front of children can encourage them to do the same;
- Offering a variety of nutritious foods without forcing children to eat them—this allows children to determine whether and how much to eat from what is offered.
How do you help your 2 to 11-year-olds eat better?
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
Image of kid eating an apple via shutterstock.