Set The Table For Better Eating Habits

With healthier choices as a new year’s resolution for many families, CHOC Children’s pediatrician Mark Colon, M.D., explains one of the best ways to help your children develop healthy eating habits is to simply eat dinner together as a family. Studies have shown that children whose families regularly eat dinner together are less likely to suffer from eating disorders.

The studies showed benefits even when families sat down for dinner just a few nights a week. Dr. Colon recommends that parents take advantage of the nightly opportunity to model healthy nutritional habits.

“Dinnertime gives parents the opportunity to start teaching healthy eating habits from day one. Also, family meals allow more face-to-face time, which can lead to improved communication and family relationships,” he says. “Including a young child at the dinner table is an excellent way to introduce fruit, vegetables, salads and meats.”

As the father of two young children, he offers these tried-and-true tips: 

 “I’m Hungry!” — Serve an appetizer if your child cannot wait until dinnertime. Try a small serving of a fruit or vegetable.

“Ewww, Yuck” — Speaking of fruits and vegetables, Dr. Colon says it may take multiple tries before a child cultivates a taste for certain foods. So keep trying! Dr. Colon advises teaching your child to say, “I do not care for this food,” instead of the word “dislike.” He says “dislike” implies permanence.

“What’s For Dessert?” — The purpose of the meal is to sit together and enjoy all of the food. Some children plow through the main course to get to the dessert. Dr. Colon advises taking a break between dinner and dessert. Wash the dishes or play with your children a little. Serve dessert later. Dessert should not be used as a reward at the end of the meal. Make it a treat, not a habit!

Dawdle Over Dinner

Turn off the television and let phone calls go to the answering machine. Break out the tablecloth, dim the lights and play some soft music. This is your family’s special time to catch up with each other. Get the conversation going by asking open-ended questions about your children’s day. Keep the table talk light and fun.

“The dinner table is not the place to lecture or discipline,” Dr. Colon says. “Instead, focus on the positives. Compliment children for exhibiting good behaviors.”

For more “healthful” tips from the experts at CHOC Children’s, check out the latest edition of Kids Health magazine at or click here:

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