By Michael Russell, Arizona State University Nutrition Communications Student
My wife and just had our first child in May and we couldn’t be more excited. I wrote an article about preparing your own baby food and the benefits to it and I’ve also written an article about dealing with picky eaters once your children get older.
I wanted to turn my attention to promoting a healthier lifestyle through nutrition once you’ve overcome the pickiness in your child. When your child eats healthier and lives a healthier lifestyle the effects are widespread. It will sharpen your child’s mind, stabilize their energy, alter their mood, and will create lifelong healthy eating habits.
What I’d like to do is show you some tips on creating a healthy eating culture and provide some ideas on what to serve your child.
Healthy eating culture:
- Focus on the overall diet: When you provide your child with a varied and moderate diet they come to understand the benefits of several food options. Keeping food that are highly processed and full of sugars to the bare minimum is a best practice. Try not to focus too much on one particular food group as this will create tunnel vision to the overall diet.
- Keep it consistent: Creating a regular family meal time will provide stability and comfort for your child. Having stability and consistency in their meal time will promote a healthy and growing appetite.
- Dine in: Cooking at home is a great way to bring the whole family together. When you cook at home you are able to regulate what ingredients are added to your meal and can control the levels of sugars and salts that go into the meal. Restaurants and take out tend to add too much of these along with unhealthy fats.
- Make them you Sous Chef: Getting your children involved in the cooking process is also a tremendous way to promote a healthy lifestyle. Use this time to teach your children about the nutritional values of the foods they are making and about to eat.
- Keep it small: Try not to supersize your meals. Your children are small so it is best to keep their portions the same size. Try to serve meals on smaller tableware to give the visual aspect that the meal is larger than it appears.
- Limit junk food: This one starts with the parents, as all these tips do, but this one might be the hardest to apply. If your child sees you eating unhealthy snacks, then they will think it is okay. Set a good example and limit the amount of junk food in the house. If your child doesn’t get used to eating chips, cookies, and candy they won’t struggle to eat healthier snacks.
- The whole grain and nothing but the grain: When given the option for a whole grain snack it is best to choose the whole grain option. Look for whole grain and high fiber as they will provide a continuous source of power throughout the day and promote healthy digestion.
- Breakfast forever: Serving breakfast foods for lunch and/or dinner is also a great way to live a healthy lifestyle. Breakfast foods are excellent sources of protein and fiber that children enjoy so regularly serve breakfast to them.
- Keep it fun: As I stated in a previous article children love to use their imaginations so creating meals that are visually appealing can help them to eat healthy without thinking twice about it. Use cookie cutters in fun shapes to ignite interest healthy snack options, create colorful plates of fruits and vegetables, and above all get them involved.
- Give them the power: Leave the fruit bowl on the counter, full of healthy options, and have them grab their own snack. Keep a bag of vegetables that you both choose from the supermarket in the refrigerator and have them choose what they want.
Getting your children involved in the food buying and preparing process is a great way to promote a healthy eating culture. As I mentioned, it is best to set the example and choose to live the same lifestyle as not to confuse your child. Armed with these tips, let us take a look at some food groups and food ideas that can continue our healthy eating habits.
Fruits: Fruits provide your children with an excellent source of fiber, essential vitamin, minerals, and antioxidants. They are naturally sweet which helps children gravitate toward them. Fruits can be served several different ways and provide wonderful color to capture your child’s attention. Great ways to serve fruits are:
- Dried Fruit– raisin, apples, apricots, pineapple, mango.
- Popsicles– look for 100% fruit juice popsicles or make them at home with your child.
- Smoothies– fruit blended with yogurt or milk and some ice is a power packed snack.
- Fruit Salad– choose fresh and colorful fruits and have your child help prepare their snack.
Vegetables: Unlike fruit, vegetables may be a harder sell for you children but do not give up so easily. Vegetables are another excellent source of fiber and essential vitamins and once over the hump, they can promote a life-long healthy food choice. Some great ways to integrate vegetable into your child’s diet are:
- Raw– not much excitement here but when served with low-fat dips or dressings that could turn quickly.
- Salad- create a salad bar to help your child get involved.
- Vegetable Pockets- wrap some roasted vegetables in pitas or soft taco shells.
Healthy Grains: Choosing whole grains is a great way to add vitamin B and minerals to your child’s diet that will promote heart healthiness and reduce their risk of certain cancers and type-2 diabetes. Cookies, cakes, and sugary cereals are sources of refined grains which should be limited to the occasional treat, if at all. Healthy grain snack options can include:
- Breakfast cereal- whole grains cereal options served with milk is a great start to your child’s day.
- Popcorn- low fat store bought or air popped at home.
- Granola- look for store bought granola that is low fat and low sugar or try to make your own with your child.
- Rice cakes- rice cakes made from brown rice is a better option and add some peanut butter to make it more appetizing.
Dairy: Choosing various dairy options is a great way to provide calcium, building strong bones without all the artery clogging saturated fats. Look for these options:
- Yogurt- mixed with fruit or made into a frozen treat or smoothie.
- Cheese- paired with fruits and vegetables cheese is a snack that provides calcium but its use should be limited due to its level of saturated fats
Above all remember two things. First, get your child involved in the food shopping and food preparing process. It helps them feel more involved and invested in the food they are about to eat. Secondly, be a great role model for your children. As much as these tips and snack ideas are for your children they are also for you, the parent. Help your child live a healthy lifestyle by living one yourself.
- Healthy School Snacks ~ Center for Science in the Public Interest. (2016). org. Retrieved
- Healthy snacks for kids: 10 child-friendly tips – Mayo Clinic. (2016). org. Retrieved 10
- Nutrition for Children and Teens: Easy Ways to Help Your Kids Eat Healthier. (2016).
Helpguide.org. Retrieved 10 March 2016, from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/nutrition-for-children-and-teens.htm
- Ten Power-Packed (and Kid-Friendly) Snack Tips. (2016). Save the Children. Retrieved 10 March
2016, from http://www.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.8601525/k.E8FA/Ten_PowerPacked_and_KidFriendly_Snack_Tips.htm?msource=wexggsna0413&gclid=CjwKEAiA04S3BRCYteOr6b-roSUSJABE1-6Bnt2caqBKGzTZAivGQdskkPzZukVLFvKttvKt1m21mRoCsQTw_wcB
- Weiser Children’s Nutrition. (2016). Weiser Living. Retrieved 10 March 2016, from