Parents are bombarded by advice on how to feed their children from the day they are born. As in all parenting challenges, it is a complicated topic. So many things impact eating: culture, developmental stage, food preference, cost, time (or lack of time), allergies, peer pressure, family ritual, multiple caregivers, school menu and more. But healthy eating has far reaching importance as it impacts the health of children as well as their future health as adults. Healthy eating and weight management go hand in hand. It is well known that obesity is an epidemic in the United States and that obesity affects diabetes, asthma, orthopedic problems and hypertension.
There is good news! Research on eating and nutrition has resulted in proven tips and resources to help parents develop a sound approach to feeding the whole family. ChooseMyPlate.gov is an online site that takes a simple, common sense approach to healthy eating. The site helps parents and children to develop personalized eating plans based on preferences and goals. See the following practical tips and highlights. Explore the ChooseMyPlate.gov site for more information and resources.
- Start simple. Make small, doable changes. Stay positive.
- Make half your plate fruits and veggies. Try new vegetables. You might be surprised what your child or family will like. Vary the preparation. Try roasting. Children may prefer whole fruits or raw finger food vegetables. Don’t over sauce – you just end up with unneeded calories.
- Move to low fat milk and dairy products. Children two and older can switch to lower fat milk and get the same nutrition. Vitamin D enriched milk supplies needed protein and needed Vitamin D. Many adults and children like low fat yogurt and benefit from probiotics in yogurt. Cheese is a favorite finger food and can be a healthy snack. Adults can model dairy intake for children.
- Vary your protein. Try meat, poultry, seafood, beans, eggs, soy, nuts and seeds. Vary preparation. Avoid frying. Baking, grilling or roasting without additional fat are healthier options.
- Make half your grains whole grains. Vary your grains. Some whole-grain ingredients include whole oats, whole-wheat flour, whole-grain corn, whole-grain brown rice and whole rye. Children seem to like tortillas or pita just for variety. There are even grains that do not include gluten for those with gluten-free diet needs. Buckwheat, certified gluten-free oats or oatmeal, popcorn, brown rice, wild rice and quinoa are all gluten-free. Read labels carefully.
- Choose foods that are low in saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. Read nutrition labels. Avoid processed foods.
- Build a healthy eating style for the whole family. Encourage young children to be adventurous eaters by offering variety. Give young children a few days to acquire a taste for a new food. As difficult as it may seem – sit down for family meals from the time children begin to eat solid foods. Although it may not be feasible every day, build family eating time into your weekly plan and stick to it. Prioritize the family meal. Even as children get older and busier, they will benefit from the family table time.
Healthy eating is important for healthy growth and healthy weight. Activity is also important for healthy weight. Children should get 60 minutes of activity every day. Discuss healthy eating and activity with your doctor or nurse during checkup appointments. Ask your doctor or nurse for information about your child’s growth in height, weight and body mass index (BMI). BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. For children it is gender and age specific. Your doctor or nurse are great resources for online healthy eating resources or local weight management programs.
Take on the challenge of healthy family eating. Your children will thank you.