Nutrition is one of the three key factors that influence early childhood development, along with genetics and environment. Research shows that healthy eating habits during a child’s early years are connected to more optimal growth, as well as mental and physical health later in life, including academic performance, and a reduced risk of adult onset diseases.
One of the best ways to foster healthy eating habits early on is to involve your child with shopping for and preparing foods in age-appropriate ways. Even observing you joyfully cooking can boost a child’s interest in trying new, healthy foods.
Allow your little one to smell or touch ingredients, rinse produce, tear greens, sprinkle on herbs, stir, mash, and pour. Talk to your kids about what you’re doing in the kitchen, and share facts about how various foods were grown, why you like them, and how they help our health. Plant a garden, or even a few window pots, and involve kids in the process of growing, harvesting, and eating plant-based foods.
Because toddlers and small children love finger foods, find healthful ways to incorporate produce. Cut casseroles into bit sized squares, like our Sweet Potato and Kale Casserole. And add vegetables to foods kids can eat with their hands, like our Savory Veg Power Pancakes. Stir pureed or finely chopped vegetables into other kid-friendly fare, like oatmeal, dips, soups, smoothies, popsicles, muffins, and even desserts. Try our Chocolate Cherry Kale Breakfast Cookies, Chocolate Avocado Pudding, and Crock Pot Stuffed Granny Smith Apples.
Last but not least, keep trying. Experts say kids may need to try a food 10-15 times before they will accept it. Continue to present healthy foods in new and positive ways. And most importantly, model healthy eating behaviors yourself, by allowing your children to observe you enjoying vegetables, fruits, and other healthy dishes.