by Kenda Hettinger, an ASU nutrition communication student
Did you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends cholesterol screening starting at the age of 9? Heart disease starts with the diet you consume as a child, and therefore they recommend a diet low in saturated fat starting at the age of one. With a 5-year-old myself, I know how difficult it can be to get them to eat healthy foods. I found this particularly true once she started school and started watching how other children eat.
- Have family mealtimes. According to an article published by the Cambridge University Press in 2017, frequent family mealtimes are associated with better diet quality for the children.
- Get the kids involved in the cooking or preparing process. With the younger kids, this could be letting them prepare their own plates. For the older kids, this could be letting them help chop vegetables or cook some of the food.
- Buy fun shaped food cutters. Younger kids love using food cutters to make their foods into fun shapes. Almost anything can be made into a fun shape, veggies, fruits, and sandwiches are common foods people cut into fun shapes.
- Find out what they like and keep serving it. My daughter prefers her vegetables raw. She loves to eat raw carrots and cucumbers but prefers her broccoli steamed. So I try to incorporate these items, cooked (or not cooked) to her liking in each dinner.
- Put variety in the diet. Try to make a point to try a new vegetable or other healthy food once a week. Always serve it in addition to healthy food you know they will eat.
- Keep mealtimes relaxed. Putting pressure on kids to try new things or to “eat their veggies,” can create food aversions. It is always better to be encouraging and accepting when they refuse food. We all have days when we do not feel like trying new things and kids are no exception.
- Lead by example. According to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2016, there are strong associations between the quality of a child’s diet with the quality of their parent’s diet. This could be due to what is available in their environment, shared meals, or modeling their parent’s food choices.
- Put healthy food choices in areas where they can reach. Keep washed and pre-cut fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods within reach for snacking. Children will naturally choose what is easy to grab.
- Be patient and trust the process. Over time your child will start to make healthy choices on their own.
When you teach healthy eating habits at home, they spill over to when they are at school, at friend’s houses, and into adulthood. Keep up the good work, parents!
More about the author:
Kenda Hettinger is a student at Arizona State University working on her bachelors of science in nutrition. She is also an allergy nurse and mom to a sweet 5-year-old girl. She became passionate about nutrition after being diagnosed with GERD and learning how the food was affecting her condition. Her food philosophy is that your meals should be centered around your vegetables.
Berge, J., Truesdale, K., Sherwood, N., Mitchell, N., Heerman, W., Barkin, S., French, S. (2017). Beyond the dinner table: Who’s having breakfast, lunch and dinner family meals and which meals are associated with better diet quality and BMI in pre-school children? Public Health Nutrition, 20(18), 3275-3284.
Robson, Couch, Peugh, Glanz, Zhou, Sallis, & Saelens. (2016). Parent Diet Quality and Energy Intake Are Related to Child Diet Quality and Energy Intake. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(6), 984-990.