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Pediatric Health

Back to School the Healthy Way

Making Healthy Food Choices a Family Goal

September 01, 2010
Without a doubt, food in the United States is more processed than in any other country. Add to that a busy lifestyle that most families maintain, and parents can feel as if they are losing the battle to keep Healthy food choices in front of their Kids. It also gets harder when they are back to school and spending less time at home. But parents can still influence kids of all ages to make healthy food choices—and they can do it in a way that is fun at the same time!

In fact, as part of Project 18, Kara Borcherding, RD, a pediatric dietitian at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent, has a number of tips to help you add fruits, vegetables, fiber and protein into your child's diet so your he can get and stay healthy!

Mix it up. Borcherding often advises parents to group together uncommon combinations of foods, such as carrots and grapes. She says that mixing untraditional foods is very effective. "When you vary colors and the items that you introduce—especially when you wouldn't normally put them together—it can make lunch or a snack much more fun," she explains. "You'd be surprised what kids will eat together, particularly when you start them young."

Think again. Texture is important to children, as well. A child who won't eat solid carrots, for example, doesn't necessarily dislike carrots. It may just be the way they are presented. Borcherding had this problem with her own toddler. She shredded the carrots and her son gobbled them up.

Go covert. Sometimes you just need to sneak them in. For older kids eating a sandwich or a wrap, add in thinly sliced vegetables. Or add chopped vegetables to a pasta dinner, or add peas to rice. Combining them as part of a dish may be just what your child needs to eat them without complaining. They may even like them, too!

Turn the weird-sounding into the wow-tasting. Borcherding says the "new" trend in vegetables is edamame. "Kids love to pop these beans out of a pod," she says. "You can pull a baggie straight from the freezer and add to your child's lunch. By the time they eat at school, they are thawed out and ready to go!"

Eat—don't drink—your calories. By all means, Borcherding advocates, push healthy beverages. Too many kids are drinking the majority of their calories through soft drinks and other sugared-up juices. She recommends water, skim milk or juices (no more than 8 oz/day) that are free of extra sugars and sweeteners.

Keep it whole. "The more food is processed, the more nutrients we lose," she explains. Take the apple, for example. An apple is a great snack for your child. Applesauce is good too—but not as a good as a whole apple. Apple juice? Good, but doesn't contain nearly the amount of nutrients as in an apple. Borcherding is quick to point out that she's not saying don't give your child applesauce or another processed—yet healthy—snack. But, if given the choice, hand your child the whole food alternative first.

Give it the ol' 1-2 punch. If you want to give your children a power snack, try combining two of the food groups. Yogurt and fruit, whole-wheat crackers and vegetables, string cheese and grapes—you get the idea.

Go low. Whenever possible, choose foods that are low in fat. Borcherding says this is especially true for dairy products. "Kids no longer need high-fat dairy products (such as whole milk) after age 2," she shares.

Think creatively. Every kid likes ice cream on a cone. Borcherding recommends giving that kid favorite a new twist. Fill ice cream cones with yogurt and top with berries and granola. She's also turned "ants on a log" (celery sticks topped with peanut butter and raisins) into a zoo by topping them with animal crackers. And if you're kids aren't likely to pick up a banana or eat a bowl of strawberries, then dump those items into a blender (add milk, yogurt and orange juice—all healthy choices) and whip up a smoothie!

Grow it up. As kids get older, you may want to offer foods in a more "adult" form. "Fancy it up a bit, she says. "If the traditional deli sandwich is boring to your tween or teen, try offering them a pita pocket with their favorites. There's something about it that's just more cool!"

Make a splash. Children should be drinking water every day. If your child isn't a fan of water, consider finding a cool sports bottle they can carry at school. You could also put orange slices or lemon in their water to give it some flavor, or add strawberries to the ice cube trays.

Many of these ideas are not only fun, but also simple. And your little extra effort will show your kids that you care about their health—and they should, too.

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You and your child should check out project18.stvincent.org. You'll find helpful tools for eating right and getting physically active as a family. And, for more tips on healthy living for your child, call 317.338.CARE (2273) to request your free copy of Peyton's Playbook—a kid's guide to healthy living (copies are limited).

Plus, if you need help finding the right foods to buy, all you have to do is visit Marsh Supermarkets and look for Down the Aisle tags that highlight the more than 600-plus healthy food choices available at Marsh.

Tags: Home & Food, Health, Kids, Parenting

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