Creating Healthy Eating Habits for Kids

healthy eating for kids
Dr. Geoffrey Harris, MD

Healthy habits start when we are children. Love of food, exercise, and fitness also begin early in life. Sadly, so does damage to blood vessels that leads to heart disease and stroke, obesity that leads to arthritis and diabetes, and the DNA damage that leads to cancer later in life.

Want some proof? During the Korean War, the doctors who did autopsies on the young American men killed in action found hardening of the arteries in most of the young men—and they were usually under 20 years old. Damage to the body from poor nutrition can start at any age.

Unfortunately, it often seems like the cards are stacked against parents’ efforts to keep kids healthy. Fast food, processed food and candy are heavily marketed to children. Just watch kids’ programming to see what kind of commercials the networks are showing. In between toy commercials are advertisements for sugary junk and fast food. Playgrounds at fast food restaurants, toys in kid’s meals and colorful costume characters are geared to induce tantrums that bring you, your family, and your money into their establishments.

Though some restaurants look like they’re trying to be healthful, most kids’ menus at most restaurants are usually devoid of nutritious choices. Even restaurants with healthy menu choices for adults typically offer macaroni and cheese, a hot dog with French fries, or chicken fingers with potato chips on their children’s menu. Ketchup is often the closest thing to a vegetable on a kid’s plate, and school lunches may also be absent of any SuperFoods. Add in many schools cutting physical education programs or recess in order to get through the mandated curriculum, and you can see the obvious challenges.

The good news is that parents are still the most influential part of a child’s life. If television, restaurants, and even school are working against your best efforts, it can be demoralizing. The urge is to take the easy way out and give in to the onslaught. Fight that urge and listen to your instincts. Children need good nutrition just like adults: Children need SuperFoods and exercise.

Tips on Healthy Eating for Kids

1. Think small and make it mini:
Kids like kid-size food. Small pieces on small plates make kids feel like the food was designed for them.

2. Introduce your child to one new food or flavor at a time:
Pick one new fruit or vegetable each week.

3. Make it fun:
Kids love to construct, deconstruct, dip, stack and wrap up their food…so let them. Fruit can be dipped in a flavored yogurt. Vegetables can be dipped in hummus. Let kids build their own mini sandwiches with whole grain bread or tortillas.

4. Keep it interesting and mix up the presentation:
Kabobs can be made from fruits, vegetables, cheese, turkey and even cooked beans. Turn a meal into a party.

5. Be prepared:
Have cut fruits and vegetables ready for a quick snack. Pack up the cut fruits and vegetables for an on-the-go snack or to complement a restaurant meal. Soy milk, fruit juices and yogurt drinks can be a great alternative to soda at a restaurant.

6. Eat colorfully:
Make it a point to incorporate the various colors of the SuperFoods on your plates. Use yellows, blues, reds, oranges and greens. It’s easy with superfoods.

7. Involve your kids:
Take them to the grocery store. Let them help choose healthy foods and produce, and encourage their natural curiosity by trying new things. Children are also more likely to try new foods if they were involved in making the meal, so roll up their sleeves in the kitchen.

8. Don’t give up:
It can take time. Up to 10 or 12 tastes may be necessary for kids to accept and enjoy new foods.

9. Be patient:
Don’t lose hope. The effort is worth the results.

10. Be a good role model:
Children will imitate their parents. Sharing healthy meals and snacks, family walks, bike rides and swimming excursions are great for family bonding and encouraging fitness and good nutrition.

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