Nutritious Eating for Kids

March 19, 2010

Teaching your children to eat well has never been more important.

Childhood obesity has caught the public’s attention (it’s Michelle Obama’s big initiative). It’s not just unhealthy for the young child; the ensuing risks include cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

So—how do you get children to eat well from the get-go? Eating healthfully begins at home. We all know this. But it’s easier said than done.

Use these tips and eating strategies to help your children develop good food habits for life.

Set a healthy, positive environment.
“A positive environment from the beginning is very important,” says Janey Woo, a Seattle-based registered dietitian specializing in kids’ nutrition at Greenlake Nutrition. “Kids will mimic what they see around them.” In other words, it’s up to adults to set a pattern of good eating for their kids. Chef by Request meals can do just that. If parents consistently sit down for complete meals that include whole foods with proteins, a variety of vegetables and fruit—and enjoy eating them—the kids will follow suit.

Talk about real, whole food in a positive way.
Focus on the delicious flavors and interesting textures, and how the food makes you feel energetic and happy. Even if you see the kids writhing on the floor yelling, “noooooooooo!”—rest assured; the good stuff is sinking in.

Good breakfast foods: High-fiber cereal and milk. Yogurt with honey or yogurt sticks. Eggs. Nut butter or sunflower seed butter on toast or on a banana.

Be persistent with picky eaters.
“It takes at least a dozen times for a kid to try a new food,” says Woo. “Parents usually give up after the third or fourth try.”

Children go in phases. They focus on favorites and can eat the same few foods for months on end. Continue to give them the full-meal deal. They’ll eventually get bored and try something new. When kids see other people eating something, they’ll eventually try it too.

Avoid power struggles over food. “You don’t want to force-feed your child and make them resist eating,” says Woo. “This creates an anxious environment around eating.”

Healthy beverages: Avoid sugary soda as much as possible. Remember that water is important for children too. Serve a half cup of 100 percent fruit juice and add another half cup of water or seltzer water.

TV + eating = a big no-no.
Numerous studies connect TV-watching with weight gain and obesity. Part of the reason is that watching television defocuses people and they miss their fullness cues. Also, once TV becomes connected with snacking, every time your child sits down to watch TV, she’ll want something to eat. See where this is going?

Tasty after-school snacks: Kids love quesadillas. Cook them with veggies and put a bit of salsa on the side. If cheese is an issue, use beans for a mini-burrito. Try cottage cheese with their favorite fruit and a drizzle of raw honey. Have your children eat in a designated area for meals, which will help them focus on fullness cues.

Don’t use food as a reward.
Your son got an A in math, or first place in a swim meet. To celebrate, you let him have an ice cream sundae. See the pattern building? A food reward system.

Many parents do this because it’s their thing. Don’t make it your kids’ thing. Try to find celebrations that aren’t food related, and that instead reflect your young ones’ interests. For younger kids it may be colorful stickers or some 99-cent toys. Think of an activity that would be a fun change of pace.

Good dinner ideas: In general, have everyone eat the same meal. Kids need to eat the same whole, unprocessed foods as adults. Cook and eat at home as much as possible. If your child ate a nutritious after-school snack and can’t finish dinner, that’s okay. He probably got what he needs.

Get kids involved—let them play!
Woo counsels parents to take their children to the grocery store and explore the fruit, vegetable, and meat/seafood sections. Let your kids pick out something special for dinner—a sweet potato, bok choy, some giant shrimp, or a lamb chop. Ask them how they’d like to cook their food: sautéed, grilled, or boiled? Sliced or whole? At dinner, give credit: “We’re eating Anne’s giant kabobs and Bill’s crazy-looking bok choy.” At the dinner table, let them touch the food and smell it, and talk about how it tastes, what they like about it, what they don’t like. The more they’re involved in the process, the more they’ll buy into healthy eating.

Good food for school lunches: If your children buy school lunches, include some snacks to round out their options and nutrition. Try popcorn, fresh or dried fruit, nuts and seeds, or vegetables.

It’s true. The great eating habits you start at home can be foiled when your kids walk out the front door. However, if you consistently create a happy, healthful home base for your family’s meals, this will likely become their default setting—for a whole lifetime.

More links:

Read up on childhood obesity statistics from the CDC Web page.
Read the Mayo Clinic’s 10 Tips for Picky Eaters.
Get some SuperFoods in your family’s diet.
Learn more about Chef by Request.
Start your own healthful eating habits. Sign up for Chef by Request.


One Response to “Nutritious Eating for Kids”

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