Encouraging Healthy Habits at an Early Age

Early childhood is a critical period for many areas of health and development. The 0-5 years is the single most critical time for laying the foundation for healthy physical, neural, emotional and social development. It is difficult to imagine that what happens in the earliest years of a person’s life may affect them well into adulthood, but research has found strong evidence of this.

Research has also shown that teaching about healthy eating at a young age is important to developing lifelong healthy habits from childhood to adulthood. Some people may associate young childhood with picky eating, food preferences, or simply choosing not to eat healthy foods at the lunch or dinner table. However, there are many more complicated reasons why a child may not be eating healthy foods. This includes availability and accessibility to healthy, affordable foods, the family environment, and the school and afterschool environments.

Although introducing healthy eating at an early age has always been important, it is especially critical now. Obesity and chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes and hypertension, were once considered adult conditions. They are now observed in children, some as young as preschool and kindergarten. Unfortunately, the past decade or two have seen a significant negative trend in these chronic diseases in young children.

Research has shown that incorporating nutrition education into a preschool curriculum can help shape children’s eating habits for the better. The local FoodWIse program has partnered with Head Start for 30+ years to offer nutrition education to staff, preschoolers, and parents/families.

Pamela Nelson and Melanie Phillips, Nutrition Educators, teach at all Fond du Lac and Green Lake Head Start sites. They visit each classroom 4 times throughout the school year to teach the Color Me Healthy curriculum. This curriculum is age-appropriate and focuses on songs, activities, taste tests, and other creative ways to introduce healthy, new foods. In addition to the classroom instruction, FoodWIse holds 3 parent-child events which give families the opportunity to cook together.

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