How can you help your kids eat healthier? A large part of healthy kid nutrition is related to adequate levels of physical activity
Kids who are active do a better job making healthier food choices when compared to non-active or less-active kids. This is the same phenomenon observed in adults – active adults tend to weigh less, have less disease and have a healthier diet. So the first step to healthier children is to get them active for one hour, seven days a week. Physical activity is any physical movement that increases heart rate, increases breathing rate, and makes them sweat. Playing games, exercising, horseback riding, sports participation, or anything else that gets them up and moving is acceptable.
Fuel is important. Calories count. It is important to get sufficient calories that support energy needs, growth of the body, development of all vital organs, and maturation. But the fact remains that if you over-fuel the body, no matter what age, it will store the extra fuel to be used later.
Feed children as naturally and organically as practical for your family. This means looking at the front of food label packages and looking at the small print list of ingredients on the back of the package. Just like a contract, it’s in the small print that food manufacturers hide the truth about what is in their food. Avoid foods with genetically modified organisms, added hormones like rBGH, additives, preservatives, artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, leveling agents, excess salt, stabilizing agents, flavor enhancers and fat substitutes.
Try to select organic options when choosing foods that don’t have a thick skin. For example, eating organic apples is more important than eating organic watermelon.
Feed children from your kitchen. It all begins with a cutting board, a knife, mixing bowls, pots and pans. Most children will only eat food with flavors and textures they’re used to, so vary what you cook but have some favorites you can all agree on. A cooking class can help you get out of a rut!
Limit the amount of meals you eat out. It’s hard to know exactly what’s in restaurant food, from added sugars to artificial ingredients, so it’s important to limit the amount of meals you order from restaurants. However, due to the increase in health-conscious eating, companies have started making healthy adjustments to their menus; The Panera Bread Company decided to remove 150 artificial ingredients from its menu offering; Chipotle restaurants announced the removal of all GMO ingredients from their menu; and Nestle Corporation decided to remove synthetic flavors and colors from its candy, changing 75 of its recipes; and Subway it would stop using the chemical azodicarbonamide in its bread.
Children, too, are sensitive to life stressors that can lead to unhealthy food choices. Personal and interpersonal relationships, home life, work and school all can influence how children make food choices.
Respect individuality. Don’t force your children to eat something (kale) they genuinely don’t like. If your children tell you they don’t like a certain food, challenge them to help you replace it with another food and keep trying to find what they will eat.
Use seasonal food choices for a variety of fruits, vegetables and salads.
Create a family list of favorite healthy recipes. This may take months or a year to develop, but use this list to set the pace for year-round family cooking.
Find new sources for recipes. Magazines, cookbooks, blogs and friends. For example, Clean Eating magazine has more than 50 recipes per issue that all look great! Cooking Light magazine is an excellent source for variety, and websites like epicurious.com, eatingwell.com/ cooks.com, whatscookingamerica.com and eatinglight.com are all great resources.
Remove or eliminate distractions when you sit down at the table. Have a conversation, turn on music, light some candles, don’t allow cell phones at the table, and don’t eat in front of the TV.
Buy a food scale so your children can learn to measure foods for meal-size and snack-size portions.
Eat real food and try to avoid the following: protein bars, fruit bars, fruit roll-ups, pop-tarts, energy bars, ready-to-drink protein shakes, and brightly colored packaged food choices.
By Kevin Shepard, MS, CISN, CSCS
Kevin is a former instructor of Exercise Physiology at a local university. He is currently an adjunct faculty member at Glendale Community College, Sports Nutritionist for DC ranch Village, and a certified personal trainer.