Encouraging Healthy Eating Habits

Now is the time to instill healthy eating habits, for your adopted preschooler, in meal choices and snack practices.

Healthy eating for adopted children

During their preschool years, our kids are busy exploring and learning. They need energy for their active lives, so proper nutrition is vital. Whether their child was adopted at birth or as a toddler — or was born to them — all parents want to encourage healthy eating. It’s easier if you follow these feeding principles:

  • Let your child make choices. One of the few things preschoolers have control over is what goes into their mouths. Be flexible, but don’t leave the choices wide open — offer two or three healthy options for meals and snacks that meet your child’s nutritional needs (see “Food Groups,” for serving recommendations). Encourage your preschooler to sample everything that’s served, but don’t force him to eat anything, or to eat everything on his plate.
  • Be patient when introducing foods. Some children need to see a new food 10 times before trying it. Introduce only one new food at a time, and try offering it in different ways. For example, vegetables can be served cooked or raw, with butter, cheese, or your child’s favorite condiment.
  • Enlist your child’s help in meal planning and prep. A preschooler can help you select food at the grocery store. At home, she can help prepare a salad or a fruit bowl, or put together a cheese plate for dessert.

Bringing Adoption to the Table

My experience with adopted children is that most become excellent eaters in a very short time. If you adopt at a very young age, you can guide your child’s eating habits from almost day one. And most children adopted beyond infancy are used to eating on a consistent schedule — having meals at the same time, in the same place, every day. They’re also used to eating what is served. Far from being picky eaters, many kids I see are anxious to try new foods!

Immediately after adoption, some preschoolers overeat at each meal. Sometimes this is behavioral, and sometimes a child needs to “catch up” in terms of nutrition and growth. Regardless of the reason, overeating usually diminishes with time.

Some adopted children dislike milk (its temperature, taste, or both). If your child enjoys ice cream, pizza, and yogurt, she’s probably not lactose intolerant. (If so, soy products are an option.) A child who’s offered other beverages — like soda and juice — quickly becomes reluctant to drink milk at all. This should be avoided at any cost. Children need the nutrition that milk provides. And if they “fill up” on sweetened beverages, there is less room for other healthy foods.

Sweets are OK now and then, but never offer dessert as a bribe, for good behavior or for “cleaning your plate.” Stick to these feeding fundamentals and start your preschoolers on a lifetime of healthy eating!

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