Helping Kids be Food Smart

With childhood obesity rates soaring and chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes now being found in kids, we need to ask ourselves, ‘What kinds of eating habits are we teaching our children?’ If you want your kids to eat healthy foods, the time for modeling healthy habits and behaviors is when they are young. Read on as Truestar gives you tips on how to raise food-smart kids.

Be a good role model: Kids will do as you do, not as you say! By showing kids how tasty healthy food can be, you just might prompt them to throw away those french fries for some healthier sweet potato fries. Click here for a sweet potato fries recipe.

Make healthy eating convenient for kids: Chances are if the healthier foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are tucked away deep in the fridge, unwashed or uncut, kids will grab a more convenient option, such as chips or cookies. Place fresh fruit or sliced veggies and dip on the counter around snack time. Also, buy healthier snack options for the house such as baked chips or frozen yogurt bars. For more tasty and healthy snack ideas, see Truestar’s meal plans for kids.

Enjoy family dinners at home: Researchers from Harvard Medical School have found that children between the ages of 9 and 14 who ate dinners with their families had healthier eating habits than those who don’t eat as a family. Those who joined their family regularly for meals ate more fruits and vegetables, and their diets contained higher levels of fiber, calcium, iron and essential vitamins. If this isn’t your family’s habit, start with one day a week and work up from there.

Do not restrict food: Restricting food can have negative effects on your child’s growth and development and can lead to an eating disorder. See A Fear of Fat for more information.

Know that your kids don’t have to give up all the foods they love to eat healthy: Eating smaller portions of their favorite foods less often is one way to ‘have your cake and eat it too’. Also, making small modifications to favorite foods can help make them more nutritious, such as having baked potato chips instead of regular, frozen yogurt instead of ice cream or choosing whole grain bread for sandwiches instead of white. Try not to label foods as “good” or “bad”. Instead, focus on teaching which foods to have “less often” and “more often”.

Get your kids involved with food selections and cooking: Give them two or three healthy options to choose from for meals and snacks, as kids love to make their own decisions. Also, let them choose a healthy meal and have them help you prepare it—kids love to eat things they’ve had a hand in cooking.

Make eating healthy fun: Chop fruits and veggies into different shapes and sizes or have a healthy cookout with some of their friends. You need to use your imagination when preparing healthy foods for kids.

Do not use food as a reward for good behavior: This sets them up for eating problems and possible weight issues later on in life. Instead, use non-food rewards such as time spent at the park or playing games together.

Encourage your kids to taste new, healthier foods: Sometimes a child will refuse a food the first time but will then try it on the second or third offering. If your child still doesn’t like a new food after two or three times, move on to new ones. This makes trying new foods less scary for them.

Accept the fact that eating out is a fact of life: With hectic schedules and no time for cooking, eating out is a fact of life for many families, but eating out does not have to mean eating unhealthy. Buy smaller sizes (don’t super-size!) and encourage milk, water or 100% juices as beverages of choice, instead of soda. Get familiar with new healthy fast-food options available, such as salads, grilled chicken sandwiches and yogurt parfaits, so you can order those healthier options for your kids. See Truestar Approved Fast-Food Options for more information.

In addition to healthy eating, it is important to get your children involved in regular physical activity early on, as this will help ensure these habits carry on throughout their lives. Walk with your child to school, make your child responsible for some daily chores, encourage after-school activities or enroll them in sports leagues in the neighborhood. The list is endless, so find the activities that fit into your family’s lifestyle and enjoy! See Fitness for Kids for great ideas.

Be sure to speak with your healthcare practitioner before putting your child on any diet or making any major changes to their diet. Be well and stay healthy!