How to make healthy choices for kids
School starts any day now, and it’s time to start packing lunches and snacks.
Fueling your child with a balanced diet can improve their performance and attention span in school. In fact, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data notes that children who lack adequate consumption of fruits, vegetables and dairy products tend to make lower grades.
Not only does consuming a healthy diet promote a healthy weight, but it can also help establish good habits and decision-making, and prevent disease for the rest of their life.
As Knox County data tells us, 17.4 percent of children ages 2-19 are obese, let’s talk about how to prevent childhood obesity and obesity down the road by addressing how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables in your child’s diet. Below are tips for vegetable-shy children.
Lead by example
Dietary habits are formed at a young age. The most influential factor in a child’s diet is their parents’ example. Your reaction as a parent to various foods leaves a lasting impression on your child. So if you don’t like that steamed broccoli you’re served, don’t make a face or express your negative opinion.
A child is also more likely to try new foods if they see their parents eating them first. So get adventurous with your child. Trying foods you haven’t had before. Even talking about food in a positive way can improve your child’s relationship with that food. All eyes are on you. Evidence tells us that children who watched their parent diet are more likely to have weight problems later in life.
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Include your child in food preparation
Hiding vegetables has been a staple for parents trying to get their kids to get more veggies. However, isn’t the goal to set kids up to want to eat and enjoy vegetables? Kids are smart. If they feel like they are being tricked, they may form unfavorable feelings about hidden foods.
There are solutions to the “I can’t get my child to eat vegetables unless I puree it into a marinara sauce.” Involve your kids from the moment you are in the grocery store to when you are serving food on the plate. A child who is allowed to take ownership in picking out the vegetable in the produce aisle, peeling, cutting and finally serving it is more likely to have a positive relationship with that vegetable. For kids too young to use a knife, start by allowing them to simply wash the produce.
Make healthy food fun
The rule “don’t play with your food” is out.
Your child’s love for vegetables can be sparked by making the food preparation process fun and creative. Making those cucumbers and carrots into a smiley face may increase the likelihood of your child eating them. Add more fun by cutting fruits into interesting shapes, spiralizing your vegetables and creating fun names for your food like “super salad” or “x-ray vision carrots.”
Finally, making your dinner a sit-down event is a positive experience for the whole family. Distractions are a recipe for disaster at the dinner table.
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Don’t give up
Unless there are allergies, try to make the same meal for all members of the family. Children won’t ask for a different meal if they don’t know it’s an option. It may take introducing a new food repeatedly for your child to like it or even accept it.
It’s recommended you should introduce a food at least 8-12 times, but children with sensory problems may need a few more exposures to accept a new food.
To add to the positive experience, congratulate your child for trying a bite of that new vegetable. Studies have shown positive results from parents giving their child a sticker every time they try a new healthy food. Even small rewards can pay healthy dividends later on.
Shanthi Appelö is a registered and licensed dietitian nutritionist at the Knox County Health Department. She obtained her master’s degree in public health nutrition from the University of Tennessee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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