Healthy Eating For Kids: Tips for Parents
By Charanya Sundar, MS, RDN, LD
Parents play a huge part in shaping children’s eating and exercise habits. When parents eat foods that are high in nutrients, children learn to like these foods as well. That’s why it is important to be a good role model by choosing nutritious foods, eat at the table, don’t skip meals and exercise regularly.
Do you struggle to get your kids to eat healthy? Here are some simple tips to help instill healthy eating habits in your kids:
Remember that you control their environment. They will eat what is available in the cupboard and fridge at home.
Let your kids try new foods. Food preferences are developed early in life so offer variety. Children often need to be exposed to a food many times before they will try it.
Involve your children in planning and preparing meals. Children may be more willing to eat the dishes they help prepare.
Teach them to figure out hunger and satiety signals. Let kids stop eating when they feel they’ve had enough. Let them listen to their own bodies and understand when they feel full. When kids notice and respond to feelings of fullness, they are less likely to overeat. Get them to understand the difference between physical and emotional hunger.
Eliminate sugar sweetened beverages. Stick to water and milk; 100 percent juice is fine but limit it to four to six ounces a day.
Teach your kids about the health effects of food. Start teaching your kids early about the impact that food has on our health. Discuss why foods that are high in sugar, added fats and salt are harmful to our health and should only be consumed occasionally.
Reduce screen time and set an example by being more physically active. Go for a daily walk with your kids and discuss how exercise makes you feel better and how fun it is! When your child is starting a new exercise program or new food, make sure to offer encouraging words. Involve the whole family in activities like hiking, biking, dancing, or playing basketball. Eating the right foods gives kids (and adults) more energy to live a healthy, active lifestyle.
Get Involved. If your child is in school, learn more about their breakfast and lunch programs. Some schools may have restrictions on what food may be brought from home and what foods can be purchased at school, so learn this ahead of time and be prepared. Support physical education and after school sports at your child’s school.
Meal Ideas and Recipes for School Lunches and Snacks
Think of the foods groups when packing a balanced school meal or snack. This includes high quality protein sources like eggs, meat or meat-substitute, starchy carbohydrates such as beans and lentils, a variety of fruits and vegetables and dairy/dairy substitute. Focus on foods that have protein, healthy fats and fiber as they will provide sustained energy.
For healthy recipe ideas, check out Power Your Lunchbox. This website contains easy and delicious recipes that are rich in nutrients. You can also find options that are vegetarian, soy free, dairy free, egg free, gluten free or nut free, as many schools may not allow certain allergens at lunch.
Healthy Lunch Recipe Examples:
• Kabobs with deli meat, cheese, and cherry tomatoes
• Salad with prosciutto-wrapped peaches
• Tuna salad with cranberries on apple slices
• Cheesy taco pasta with ground turkey, cheese and veggies
• Zoodle pastas as a high protein, nutrient dense grain free option
• Avocado stuffed with chickpeas, feta cheese and veggies
• Quiche with broccoli and cheese
Healthy Snack Example:
• Sunflower butter or cashew butter drizzled on popcorn (if peanut butter is not allowed in your child’s school)
• Cocoa-covered almonds
• Greek yogurt with oranges and coconut flakes
• Vegetables and hummus
• Make your own trail mix with cashews, sunflower seeds, dried fruit, pretzels
September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. About one in three kids in the U.S. is overweight or obese. Having healthy kids starts at home. Parents set the tone for the kinds of foods their children will eat and how much exercise they get. Set an example for your kids; they are watching you!
About the Author
Charanya Sundar is a Registered Dietitian with PsyMed, Inc. She helps prepare Nicholson Clinic patients undergo lifestyle changes to be successful with surgery and minimize complications, disease risk and nutrient deficiencies. She enjoys sharing unique recipes and exercise plans to show that having a healthy lifestyle doesn't have to be restrictive and can be enjoyable.