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Health Tips for Parents


Health Tips for Parents

2011 Issues

How can I encourage healthy eating habits?


HT-Sept11-Healthy Eating HabbitsEncouraging healthy eating habits in a child—especially a finicky eater—can be a challenge, but the USDA’s new food guide in the form of a colorful, divided plate may help parents help kids make healthy choices.

The new USDA food guide, known as MyPlate and available online at ChooseMyPlate.gov, was designed to replace the old Food Guide Pyramid, which contained vertical stripes to represent the five food groups plus fats and oils.

The new divided plate features four sections for vegetables, fruits, grains and protein, and a side dish of dairy. Half of the plate is fruits and vegetables, with the vegetable section slightly larger than the fruit section. On the other half of the plate, grains are slightly larger than proteins.

“I think the plate sends a great message and is a good guidepost for every parent, family and individual for what you need to stay healthy and well,” says Wendelin Slusser, M.D., medical director of the FIT for Healthy Weight Program at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA.

While the proportions of fruits and vegetables to protein and grains are the same for adults and children, young children’s portions should be significantly smaller than those for older children or adults, Dr. Slusser notes.

“A portion size of a fruit or grain is the equivalent of a fist and that fist should be a quarter of the plate for the person eating from it,” Dr. Slusser says.

Parents should also encourage young children to serve themselves onto their own plates so they can determine the amount they want or need and not make them finish all of the food on their plate, she says.

Consider what your young child eats weekly, not daily.

Parents of toddlers who eat so little that they seem to “live on air” should be comforted to know that it is normal for a young child’s appetite to vary from day to day. Instead of worrying about their toddler’s daily intake of food, parents should consider the child’s consumption of calories and nutrients throughout the week, Dr. Slusser says.

Kid-friendly Food

  • Fruit smoothies
  • Dips – season yogurt with herbs (for vegetables) or cinnamon and vanilla (for fruit)
  • Assemble fruits and vegetables into fun shapes
  • Personal pizzas – let kids design their own
  • Butterflies – use carrot sticks for the body, apple slices for wings, raisins for eyes
  • Homemade trail mix
  • Banana popsicle – insert stick into peeled banana and freeze

(Adapted from USDA’s 10 Tips Nutrition Education Series)

This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. UCLA Health pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children’s Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. All health and health-related information contained in this publication is intended to be general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional.

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