It’s important for all of us to eat healthy, but it’s crucial for children because good nutrition aids in the development of a strong mind and body. Plus, the good habits children develop now will likely follow them for decades to come.
However, it is not always easy to eat healthy! The majority of today’s foods are laden with artificial dyes, sweeteners, salt, oils and preservatives. Even foods that we think are nutritious are sometimes nothing more than the result of clever marketing from food companies. Claims of “less sodium,” “whole grain” and “all natural” don’t always equal healthy.
Getting children to eat healthfully will more than likely not happen overnight. However, if you make slow but steady changes and model good behavior, it doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. Consider incorporating some of these suggestions:
- Dish out appropriate serving sizes. In general, a portion should be the size of your child’s fist. And, there’s no need to insist your child be a member of the “clean plate club.” Kids are pretty good at knowing when they are full.
- Focus on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains – foods that can be eaten in their natural state – with little-to-no processing. Get in the habit of checking food labels. Question any food that contains ingredients that you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce.
- Once a week, clean and cut up fruits and vegetables and then store them front and center in the refrigerator. Now when your child is hungry or wants a snack, he has healthy choices. Refrain from buying chips and cookies which are nothing more than empty calories.
- The best way to know exactly what your family is eating is to prepare meals at home. Restaurants routinely add unnecessary fat, salt and sugar to meals. Plus, studies show that regular, sit-down meals at home help lower obesity rates and improve family well-being.
- Involve your children so they have a say in the meal they will eat. Ask them to help select a recipe, create a grocery list and then find the ingredients you’ll need at the store.
- Involve your children in growing their own food – such as peppers and tomatoes. Don’t have the space? You can have a garden with just a few flower pots on a patio.
- Slowly eliminate sugary drinks. Make drinking water your family’s go-to drink. There’s nothing cheaper, healthier or more plentiful than water – and most of us could stand to drink more of it.
- Serve more fruits and vegetables with each meal and as snacks. If your child resists, don’t force or bribe him. Model good behavior and your child will likely eventually adopt your habits. Meanwhile, be patient and get creative. For example, create a smiley face with vegetables on a plate. Use fruit to create the initial of their first name in a bowl of oatmeal. Place chunks of fruit on a kabob or freeze grapes or peaches for a fun, tasty snack.
In general, take it in stride. There’s no need to ban unhealthy foods entirely – simply limit them to rare occasions – so that your child doesn’t rebel or overindulge when given the chance. Crowd out the bad choices by filling up on better, healthier options. Your family has nothing to lose and great health to gain!
For more information visit www.rileyhospital.org.
Sarah Hill, M.D. FAAP, is a pediatrician for the Department of General Pediatrics at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.