Parents play an important role in shaping their children’s eating habits. Encouraging your kids to eat healthy may seem like a challenge, but helping them to develop healthy eating habits now can help them throughout their lives.
Healthy eating, along with physical activity, will help kids to grow, learn, build strong bones and muscles, maintain a healthy weight and reduce the chance of developing diabetes and heart disease.
When the body is not being replenished with the nutrients necessary to stay healthy, malnutrition may be the result. Malnutrition affects the growth and development of infants, children and adolescents, but this can affect people of all ages. Signs and symptoms of malnutrition include:
- Fatigue, low energy
- Poor immune function (which can cause the body to have trouble fighting off infections)
- Dry, scaly skin
- Swollen and bleeding gums
- Decaying teeth
- Slowed reaction times and trouble paying attention
- Poor growth
- Muscle weakness
- Bloated stomach
- Brittle bones
- Problems with organ function
Take time to talk to your kids about healthy foods. Use meal time as teaching moments, and speak up when you notice unhealthy eating habits. Current guidelines from the Food & Drug Administration encourage children age 2 and older to eat a variety of healthy foods, including:
- Fruits, vegetables, unsalted nuts and seeds, and whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products
- Lean meats, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, soy products and eggs
The guidelines also recommend limiting foods with added sugars and solid fats, such as pizzas, sodas, sugar-sweetened drinks, cookies, cake and fast foods. The following tips can help you to cook healthy foods for the entire family:
- Use olive or canola oil instead of butter or margarine to reduce the solid fats in the food that you prepare.
- Consider “oven-frying” food that involve little or no oil, but create a crunchy texture.
- Choose and prepare food with less salt, and encourage kids to eat fruits and vegetables for snacks instead of salty foods like chips.
Actively growing children need food at regular intervals to keep them healthy, both mentally and physically. One of the most important guidelines for healthy eating is to make sure your child starts the day with a healthy breakfast to spark the energy they need for the rest of the day. In fact, kids who don’t eat breakfast tend to have a shorter attention span and less energy to carry out morning tasks. While any breakfast is better than no breakfast, it is best to include nutritious foods from three of the four food groups.
Whole-grain cereal, when part of a healthy, balanced breakfast including dairy (such as milk and yogurt), fruit and lean protein, is a popular food item that experts say can easily address the hunger gap during the summer months when children are not in school. Healthy cereal contains one serving of whole grain, no more than 200 calories per serving, six grams or less of sugar and at least three grams of fiber per serving. It should also be free of artificial colors and dyes.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shares a number of quick and easy tips to help your family get a nutritious start to the day:
- Include a variety of foods – not just traditional breakfast foods. Leftovers from the previous evening’s meal, tuna fish and celery, or even a turkey sandwich will work.
- Give kids food that they like. You can mix healthy cereals in with a little bit of their more sugary favorites.
- Make healthy trade-offs, and remember that balance is the key. If you can’t include enough vegetables in the morning meals, include them in an afternoon snack.
- Prep foods the night before. Chop up fruit to include in cereal or yogurt parfaits, or cut vegetables for an omelet. Put out a bowl of nut-and-fruit trail mix for kids to grab a handful as they walk out the door.
Christina Brzezinski is the Chief Nursing Officer at Coastal Carolina Hospital and Jennifer LeBlanc is the Chief Nursing Officer at Hilton Head Hospital.