Here at the Dr. Cobb blog, we so often talk about the basics of oral care for children and their families. One thing that’s always an important part of a beneficial oral care program in the home is a well-balanced diet. As such, we thought that we’d touch on this subject in the blog this month and, hopefully, give a few parents some tools and advice on how to encourage their children to eat right and eat healthy.
Children who eat regular, well-balanced meals and avoid sugary, non-nutritional foods typically have more energy and stay healthier throughout the year. Healthy children are happy children. But almost every parent knows that children can be finicky when it comes to new foods. We know that broccoli is good for them. Sweet potatoes, spinach, and squash as well. But these healthy, tasty foods look nothing like hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and fries. And the mere presence of healthy fruits and vegetables on a dinner plate can really bring out the frowns. So what to do?
Experts in children’s nutrition often tell parents that they have to introduce new foods anywhere from 8 to 12 times before a child will warm to the idea of tasting and trying. Parents who are inclined to be impatient should take a deep breath and hold their tongue. Healthy habits don’t start overnight. We all grew up loathing certain foods, but we learned to like many of them over time. Give your child plenty of time to come to terms with the idea of new foods.
Here’s a bit of advice you don’t hear too often: don’t bargain with your child over new foods. Child psychologists will tell you that bargaining or making deals or promises around new foods creates a mindset in the child that the new food item on the plate before them truly is something they won’t like. Why else would their parents try to ply them with treats or promises to get them to eat it? Instead, encourage them to try the food, but don’t make a big deal out of the issue. If they leave it on their plate untried, maybe they’ll try it the second time. Or the third. Or fourth. Give it time. As with many things in life, patience will win out.
Another suggestion is to get your children involved in the cooking process. Children are naturally filled with wonder and curiosity. An acorn squash at the grocery store, for example, is a fascinating object. What do you think would happen if we brought it home and cooked it? In this, you’re creating an amount of interest from the grocery store to the table. They’ll be personally invested in the “experiment” with the new food item and more likely to try it when it has been cooked and served to them.
Lastly, it might be beneficial to keep the media from dictating a diet to your children. TV commercials are overrun with unhealthy food choices that are marketed directly to children. And even if you can’t reduce the number of TV commercials your child sees for fast food or sugary snacks, you can certainly refuse to reinforce those messages by not bringing those unhealthy foods home to your table.
If you need more information about how to care for your child’s teeth, or if you wish to make an appointment for an evaluation, feel free to contact the office of Dr. Cobb. There can be many responses to questions about early oral care for children, so it’s always best to address parent questions on a case-by-case basis. As a pediatric dentist, Dr. Cobb is always ready to provide counseling regarding these issues and more!