Our children are our most precious gift, so let’s be sure to give them every health advantage good nutrition can provide.
As parents we are role models in all the behaviors we exhibit, making what we eat, how we plan and how we prepare our meals vital to our children’s health. We need to teach kids about healthful foods and make sure they get regular daily exercise, but remember our actions speak louder than words.
More than a third of children and teens are overweight or obese, according to recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics. Childhood obesity can lead to elevated risks of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and other health issues, and the reality is it can usually be prevented.
Here are tips to keep your kids healthy:
Shop smart and get your children involved in selecting the food that will be available at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Go to the grocery store with a list, and stick to the list. Be adventurous and pick a new fruit or vegetable every week, or prepare a familiar one in a new way.
Excuses aside, we have more control over what is in our food and how it is cooked if we prepare it ourselves. For instance, use plain yogurt when you are accustomed to using mayo or—to reduce fat—try a tablespoon of any juice in place of a tablespoon of oil in a recipe. Ask for help from your children with age-appropriate tasks. Plus, teach them about the food, such as orange vegetables have a lot of beta-carotene, which helps our vision, or greens provide calcium, which helps us grow tall. The goal is to encourage them to try new foods they helped to prepare.
Set the Example by Eating Right
Breakfast is a critical meal, so make sure no one in the family skips it. In the evening sit down as a family to enjoy dinner and conversation about everyone’s day. Research indicates families who eat together have a stronger bond, and children have higher self-confidence and perform better in school.
Use “My Plate” to Guide Portions
When serving meals, start by filling half the plate with fruits and vegetables. Make sure the grains are whole grains, which deliver 3 grams of fiber or more per serving. For beverages, choose water over sugary drinks, and opt for fat-free or low-fat milk. Keep portion sizes in check by eating protein about the size of a deck of cards at lunch and dinner, plus a half cup of pasta/rice or small sweet or white potato. All snacks are fruits and vegetables.
Regular physical activity strengthens muscle and bones and is a great way to spend time together. Family hikes, bike rides or a walk to the playground are all activities that provide an opportunity for children to have parents’ undivided attention while still engaging in physical activity.
As parents, we are highly influential over the habits our children form early, and they can last a lifetime. Take steps to lead kids down a path of good nutrition.