Fostering Healthful Habits

In addition to play, there are other healthful habits you want to instill in your daughter. Anything that promotes her physical and mental health falls under this category, including eating right and exercising. These healthful habits can be small changes in what you already teach her, or they can be major. But nothing is wasted on your daughter, especially if you practice what you propose. If she picks up the being-active habit now, she will keep it up in the years to come.

Eating Right

Another healthful habit for your little daughter is eating healthfully. Examine the foods you serve her carefully.

Think of the meals you offer her as her physical building blocks. Her body cannot grow strong and “bug”-repellent unless the building material you provide is of top quality.

These basic food guidelines will help to get you started. Examine what your daughter eats with them in mind. The basic guidelines are as follows:

  • Fresh fruits are crucial. Make sure that every so often you introduce your little girl to some new choices besides the old favorites she already eats with gusto.

  • Of course, fresh vegetables should be part of her menu as well. Let her select what she wants to add to the salad she eats with her dinner.

  • Whole-grain breads are a must, but they don't have to be boring. Vary the format of the breads, even the size of the servings. For example, whole-wheat pancakes made in the shape of a bunny taste better to your little girl than the usual ones.

  • Again, your daughter's tendency to imitate her parents comes in very handy. If you and your spouse eat a health-conscious diet, your little girl will follow along. So make a game of shopping with her for groceries. Get your daughter involved in meal planning, shopping, and food preparation. Children love to be invited; they usually resist being commanded. When your daughter is old enough, invite her to help you plan meals. You can give your daughter her own short grocery list (use pictures if she cannot read yet) and help her shop. Even toddlers can rinse lettuce, put cheese slices on hamburger buns, and set the table. Your daughter is more likely to eat something she has helped prepare. Have her become savvy at an early age about what is good for her and what is not.

    Young children and their parents often disagree about eating. Parents tend to like the idea of three meals a day. They want their children to eat healthful food, to eat what is put in front of them without complaining, and to cooperate about snacks and other food choices. Eating is actually much simpler than most parents make it: You should eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. When parents force children to eat, punish them for avoiding certain foods, provide sugary snacks, or cook meals on demand, they usually interfere with the natural process of eating.

    Essential

    Your job as a parent is to make good food available; your daughter's job is to eat it. A little junk food won't damage her permanently (you don't need to take away her Halloween candy, for instance), but do limit the amount of fatty, sugary treats available. Instead, provide fruits, vegetables, dairy, and other acceptable snacks.

    Of course, you worry about your daughter's eating because you want her to be healthy. It may help you relax to know that children usually eat what they need over time. In other words, your daughter may not eat foods from all of the food groups every day. In fact, she may want to live on macaroni and cheese for days. But if your daughter is active and healthy, she will usually choose to eat what she needs — eventually.

    Healthful eating can be a fun experience for kids. Together come up with a list of foods that are good for you and post it where the whole family can see it. You and your daughter can then pull out from the refrigerator the snack items and sandwich fixings you bought together judiciously and pack health-conscious lunches together. You will laugh when she discovers that you're trying to sneak some Oreos into your stash. “Not on the list,” she may say, pointing to the posted sheet that both of you developed.

    “Cookies once a week are okay,” you inform her because they are. Even the most health-oriented household has to make allowances for someone's sweet tooth now and then. It is that friendly give-and-take between your daughter and you that will make her feel good about her eating habits.

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