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Raising Healthy Eaters from Preschool to High School

family-around-table

Food, nutrition and eating skills are among the most important things you can share with children — food to fuel busy, successful lives, nutrition to nourish strong bodies and smart brains, and eating skills to enjoy the social aspect of meals with family and friends.

As with any part of raising children, no one does a perfect job with nutrition, not even nutrition professionals. As a parent, grandparent or adult caregiver, you can help raise healthy eaters during these critical years by doing your best to:
Serve regular, balanced meals and snacks with a variety of nutrient-rich foods.
Provide calm, pleasant meal times where adults and children can talk together.
Allow children to use their internal signals to decide how much and what to eat.
Explore a variety of flavors and foods.

Share an appreciation for healthful food, lovingly prepared and shared with others.
Make food safety, including washing hands, a part of every eating occasion.
Teach basic skills for making positive food choices away from home.
Find credible food and nutrition resources when you don’t know the answer.

While this may seem like an intimidating list, two family habits go a long way in making this happen: regular family meals and involving kids in nutrition from the ground up.

Make Family Meal Times a Priority-
Sometimes a very simple act can have important, long-lasting benefits. According to parenting and health experts, that is exactly the case with family meal times. Eating and talking together helps:

Foster family unity.
Prevent behavior problems at home and school.
Enhance academic success.
Improve nutrition.
Promote healthy weight for kids.

With that impressive list of benefits, it’s worth making the time and effort to enjoy more family meal times each week. Look for easy ways to add just one family meal to the schedule. If evenings seem too hectic for family dinners, set aside time for a weekend breakfast or lunch. After a month or two of this new pattern, you can add another family meal each week. Before you know it, you will be eating together on most days.

Get Kids Involved in Nutrition
This one is fun for everyone and it can happen anywhere: your kitchen, the grocery store or a community garden. Every trip through the supermarket can be a nutrition lesson. Kids can learn to categorize food into groups: grains, fruits, vegetables, milk foods and meat/beans. They can choose new foods that they want to try, such as picking out a new fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruit each trip. As children get older, they can help plan the meals.

Preparation Tips

Pack balanced lunches at night and store in a certain spot in the refrigerator so you can grab and go in the morning. Try to include a serving of fruit, vegetable, protein, whole grain, and a fun snack like baked chips or a dark chocolate square. BONUS: If you pack lunch at night, you have more time to prepare a healthy breakfast.

Start a “snack station.” Clear a pantry shelf and store with healthy snacks like granola bars, dried fruit, cereal, applesauce and crackers with peanut butter (if there are no allergies in the house!). Same idea for a “snack section” in the refrigerator where you can keep fruits and veggies with dips and yogurt and/or string cheese.

Shop for breakfast essentials like eggs, fruit, yogurt, low-fat milk, cereal, whole-grain breads and granola bars for those busy mornings. For a quick and healthy breakfast enjoy cereal (with less than 10 grams sugar/serving), low-fat milk and a banana and/or yogurt. Make sure to balance the breakfast with a protein and carbohydrate for lasting fullness and energy.

Prep meals and chop veggies on the days when you are least busy. Having the foods all ready to go will make cooking a lot quicker. BONUS: Kids are more likely to choose fruits and veggies if they are already cut up and ready to eat. Placing nutritious snacks in plain sight makes everyone more likely to pick them up.

Make lists, organize items, and have a plan. Before you know it, you and your family will have a stress-free and nutritious morning routine!

Quick, Healthy & Delicious Lunch Ideas

Enjoy a wrap! Wraps are a nice change of flavor and texture from the usual sandwich. Use whole-grain tortillas, available in most supermarkets. Spread on mustard, hummus, some oil and vinegar-based dressing, or pesto sauce. Then fill it up with grilled chicken salad or assorted lean meats, cheese, tomato, sliced onion and shredded Romaine lettuce. Another way to pack a wrap is to make it with Mexican style ingredients like guacamole, salsa, black beans, grilled chicken and brown rice. Just roll it up, wrap in foil and store in a lunchbox!

Tasty Sides

Add some of these to round out your child’s lunch:
Fruit cups (with no sugar added) or fresh fruit salad
Applesauce (also with no sugar added)
Nuts (if age and allergy appropriate), such as walnuts, pistachios, almonds or peanuts
Raw veggies (ready to pack) such as carrot sticks, sugar snap peas or celery sticks
Cheese sticks — available in 2% sharp cheddar or part skim-milk mozzarella
Healthy snack bars (individually wrapped) with 3 or more grams of fiber, less than 10 grams sugar, and no more than 1 gram saturated fat
Yogurt with less than 10-12 grams of sugar per pack (or purchase the plain and add honey and fruit)
Once in a while, 1 or 2 whole grain (or homemade) cookies are OK as a treat

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