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Psychologists Offer Tips To Improve Children's Eating Habits
Updated March 31, 2017 6:39 AM | Filed under: Health
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(INDIANAPOLIS) - Parents and caregivers play an important role when it comes to children's eating habits.

While March was National Nutrition Month, officials encourage families to consider these tips every month by taking steps to improve and establish healthy eating habits for the whole family.

Research shows that children who eat a well-balanced diet and exercise regularly are likely to perform better in school, feel better about themselves, cope with stress effectively and better regulate their emotions. They also have higher self-esteem and are less prone to developing anxiety and depression. Additionally, establishing healthy eating habits early in life can lead to long term healthy behaviors in adulthood.

"As a parent of two young children, we've tried to establish healthy eating habits from Day 1 by providing a variety of healthy options for our children to try and by setting a good example ourselves," says Dr. Natalie Dattilo, a clinical health psychologist in Indianapolis.

Psychologists can help parents and caregivers implement strategies to guide children in the process of developing life-long healthy behaviors.

Start Early

Parents and caregivers who help children establish good eating and sleeping habits early in life will avoid having to break bad habits later. Exposing children to a variety of flavors and different foods can not only help children accept healthy foods but to possibly prefer them.

Make Healthy Eating Easy

Research shows that daily environments like home, school and work can affect habits. Children generally tend to choose foods that are familiar, easily available and ready to be eaten. Parents and caregivers can encourage kids to eat healthier by keeping healthy foods in the house and pack kids' lunch boxes with nutritious snacks like carrots, apples or nuts instead of chips or cookies

Set A Good Example

Children who see their parents or caregivers buying and eating healthy foods are more likely to eat wholesome foods themselves. Healthy eating doesn't need to be a trick. Instead, teach children to look at healthy foods as tasty and desirable. Try involving kids in planning, shopping and cooking meals to make it fun.

Rewards And Treats

Many parents like to treat their children with special foods for a job well done. While everyone enjoys certain treats, try to reward children with things other than desserts or candy. Instead, consider a family outing or the chance to skip a chore or other non-food related rewards on some occasions.

Have Meals As A Family

Research shows that social support has a direct impact on healthy eating intentions. Family meals are not only a good opportunity for families to connect, but are also the perfect time to talk about healthy eating habits and engage children in conversations about what consists of a nutritious meal.

Be Aware Of Kids' Emotions

Support is essential when working with children to improve nutrition, especially when that path can be difficult and frustrating. Pay close attention to children's emotions and reassure them that changes in diet are to make them healthy, and not because there is something wrong with them.

Dr. Dattilo agrees. "We try to set healthy limits when it comes to treats but we don't deny them either. We believe it's important to let our children have some say in what they eat and how much. Teaching them to be mindful of their "belly hunger" and listening to what their bodies need to be healthy and strong is empowering for kids and a skill they will use for life."

To learn more about mind/body health, visit the American Psychological Association at and follow @APAHelpCenter. To find out more about the Indiana Psychological Association visit and follow @IN_Psych_Assoc.

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