Q&A: 4 years
Start by setting a good example. Just by being around you and watching how you interact with food, your child is learning a great deal about meals, snacking, and food in general. When you eat nutritiously and provide tasty, well-balanced meals for your family, you show that you value fresh, delicious food and healthful eating.
It also helps to talk to your child about why you value these things, emphasizing the benefits that come from eating nutrient-rich foods. For instance, at breakfast you might mention that you like to start the day with a healthful meal, since your body hasn’t had any food overnight, and just like a car, you need to fuel up in order to start your engine and keep it running throughout the day. Also, trips to a farmer’s market or the neighborhood grocery store to pick out foods together with your child can be quite productive.
Perhaps most important of all, you can help your child notice the connection between what he eats and how he feels. If he becomes tired after a sugary afternoon snack, point out that while sweets leave him feeling tired and hungry, protein-rich snacks (such as string cheese or almond butter and crackers) are more likely to provide energy that will last him until dinner. In the same vein, if he tends to get grumpy before mealtime and perk up once he’s eaten, call attention to the pattern and teach him which foods will help restore his energy—and allow him to get back to the business of having fun.
Gary C. Morchower, MD, pediatrician and author of The 1001 Healthy Baby Answers: Pediatricians’ Answers to All the Questions You Didn’t Know to Ask.