Behavior and routine
- Drink after a meal, not during. Even water can fill up a little belly, tricking a child into feeling full. Milk and juice are more often the culprit as many toddlers and preschoolers drink so much throughout the day that they aren't hungry enough for food at mealtime.
- Set meal and snack times. Kids need to know that mealtime is an important and expected part of their day. Eating in the stroller or car conveys to your children that eating well is not a priority. Snack foods that parents can keep in the car are also often lower-nutrient foods.
- Sit down to meals with your children. They will eat more healthful foods if they see healthful eating modeled.
- Turn off the TV. Older children and adults tend to mindlessly eat in front of the television, but many young kids will be too captivated by the screen to eat at all.
- This might sound counterintuitive, but make sure your child is getting enough exercise. Yes, exercise burns calories, but it also ensures a child is hungry enough to eat well.
- Provide healthful snacks in between meals. Children's stomachs are small, so they cannot always eat enough food during their meals to meet their nutritional needs. Snacks also sustain a young child's energy and mood.
- Add a snack before bedtime. If the snack is full of healthful fat and protein, the nutrients can build tissue while sleeping. Avoid sugar so a child's ability to sleep is not affected.
Keep in mind that this approach to eating works for most kids, not just those who need to put on a few extra pounds.
For a recipe that is full of healthful calories, try these energy balls (see accompanying recipe). My children's friends often walk into our house and immediately ask whether I have any in the fridge or freezer; in other words, they are a crowd pleaser, and a nutrient-rich one.
Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools, a D.C. nutrition education company. Look for her posts on the On Parenting blog: washingtonpost.com/onparenting.