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Early Childhood

Kids eating nutritious foodsHealthy habits start early!

“Learning starts in infancy, long before formal education begins, and continues throughout life. Early learning begets later learning and early success begets later success…” - Dr. James J. Heckman

There are many ways to make sure that children are learning healthy habits. Take advantage of their developmental stage and incorporate age-appropriate food and activities that are both healthy and stimulating. Appeal to all of the senses of young children: sight, smell, touch, sound and taste. Exploring all of the senses helps make healthy food and physical activity fun!

Play, play!

Playing is how children learn, grow and develop physically and socially. Interaction, stimulation and exploration through play are important building blocks for vocabulary and knowledge of the world. Research shows that children who are active have fewer behavioral and disciplinary problems do better in school and have longer attention spans in class

Unplug from Screen-time

Screen-time Recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
0-2 years old: Avoid television entirely
2+ years old: Limit to 2 hours per day

Limiting screen time -- which includes television, computers, video games and handheld devices -- is important for the healthy development of young children. The first years of life are critical for brain development. Screen time can interfere with the time young children need to explore, play and interact with others. Decreasing screen time encourages children to be active and use their imagination as entertainment. Check out the Play, play! section for ways to be active when the screen is turned off.

Stay Hydrated and Healthy

For toddlers and preschoolers, milk and water should be the main "go-to" drinks. Encourage young children to drink water throughout the day at meals and snack times to help reduce the number of sugary beverages children drink. Sugary drinks such as soda, punch and fruit juice add too much sugar and too many calories to a child’s diet and can keep young children from getting the calcium and nutrients that they need. Even 100% fruit juice should be limited; babies do not need any juice at all and for children over 1 year of age, 4-6 ounces of juice a day is more than enough. Try giving children reusable bottles in their favorite color and encourage them to keep refilling the bottle with water. Water does not have to be boring- add fresh fruit slices, frozen berries in ice, or cucumber to it to create a fun and flavorful refreshment!

Have Fun with Food

Kids making healthy snacks

Invite kids into the kitchen! Kids are more likely to try new foods that they have helped make. Time in the kitchen is an opportunity to practice motor skills when stirring, pouring or kneading. Kids can learn more about where food comes from and how meals are made. There are many tasks that can be delegated to younger chefs, such as collecting items from the pantry and refrigerator, stirring ingredients in mixing bowls with whisks or wooden spoons, washing vegetables and setting the table. After all the cooking is done, clean up the kitchen together! For even younger chefs, give them child-size versions of kitchen supplies or invite music into the kitchen by letting them drum with a wooden spoon and pots and pans.

Eat a Rainbow of Colors

It is important to introduce as many fruits and vegetables to young children as possible. Use the rule that everyone must take at least two bites of new foods. Taste is one of the primary ways young children learn about the world around them, and as they get older they are better able to distinguish between flavors. The main factors impacting whether a child likes a vegetable include age, how many times they are exposed to the food, the smell and expectations of whether it will be tasty or not. It can take as many as 10 times to try a food before a child’s taste buds can “decide” whether they like the food or not.

  • Engage picky eaters who do not like trying new, healthy vegetables.
  • Teach children to try new things. They may even realize they like them!
  • Be a good role model. Follow the rules as well!
  • Praise children for being courageous enough to try new foods.