Kids Eat Right™
“August is Kids Eat Right™ month. Kids Eat Right™ month focuses on the importance of healthful eating and active lifestyles for kids and families. It’s a time to highlight the role that everyone plays in ensuring a healthy future for our nation’s children.”
As a Registered Dietitian I help teach parents and children how to eat healthy and learn the important role that nutrition plays in their growth. It’s all well and good to know what your child should eat, but getting the food from the plate to their stomach can be a challenge. It may not seem like the thing to do, but letting kids have some control is the way to go.
Here are 10 tips for parents:
Parents control the supply lines: You decide which foods to buy and when to serve them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the grocery store and see parents cave to buying food just because their kids are whining and they don’t want them to make a scene. You have the control over what comes into the house. What’s available is what kids will eat. I’m not here to say that kids shouldn’t have a few treats, but if the majority of what you’re buying is crap, odds are they’re going to go for the food that in theory looks/sounds more appealing. It’s all in how it’s presented though. I’ve always said that healthy food can taste good. It has to have flavor otherwise no one will want to eat it, yourself included.
Kids decide if and what to eat. From the foods you offer, kids get to choose what they eat or whether to eat at all. Yes, this means they can walk away from the dinner table (once everyone else is finished) without having eaten. But, because you control the food, it also means that they won’t have the option of opening a bag of chips and using snacks to fill the dinner void. You’re not going to please everyone every night with what’s for dinner, the key is to offer variety and have some foods that the kids recognize and like. What might be more important is getting the kids involved in the meal prep, not only for understanding the importance of nutrition but also for helping them to learn how to cook as well as expanding their repertoire as far as eating. I’ll never forget the time when we made homemade pesto at the school I taught at. We had an organic garden at the school and the kids really were able to see farm to table in motion. They were hesitant at first to try a green leaf aka basil. But the minute they saw it blended up with parmesan cheese and nuts they were able to see it transformed into something that maybe, just maybe they’d eat. Bring on pasta and they were in (because who doesn’t like pasta?!) Getting kids involved in the meal prep is important, not only for them but also for the parents – it helps take some stress off of having to think of every meal for the week. The odds are higher that they’ll try it if they’re involved in the process.
Quit the “clean plate club”: Let your children stop eating they feel they’ve had enough. Parents may want the efficient eating and clean plates, but that is not how kids operate. And that is a good thing. Kids, especially younger ones, are able to respond to their hunger cues. When they’re hungry they eat, when they’re not hungry they don’t eat. If you as a parent are able to respect your child’s hunger cues, your child may well be on the way to a healthy and enjoyable relationship with food. Now if only some adults could cue in on their hunger cues…
Start them young. Food preferences are developed early in life, so offer a variety of foods in a variety of forms. Yes, kids go through phases where all they want to eat is a grilled cheese on repeat, aka known as a food jag, but don’t get frustrated or force them to eat, this will not solve the problem. Introduce new foods slowly. Children are new-food-phobic by nature. Taste buds have to get used to a flavor before the kids actually begin to like the taste. It can take as many as ten tries before a child accepts a new food. 10 tries!! Talk about needing patience. Keep offering, without forcing, and your child might end up liking broccoli. Here are a few alternative ways to offer broccoli:
Drink calories count: Soda and other sweetened drinks add extra calories and get in the way of good nutrition. Kids need water, water, and more water – it helps to quench their thirst and won’t fill them up at meal time, as opposed to sugary drinks like juice or soda (& yes, juice is just as unhealthy for you as soda – don’t be fooled!)
Put sweets in their place. Occasional sweets are fine, but don’t turn dessert into the main reason for eating dinner. If parents are using sweets as a reward, the sweet treat can become the goal, making dinner just something to get through on the way to the finish line. These practices can create unhealthy eating patterns instead of resolving them.
Kids do as you do: You ARE a role model. Eat healthy and your kids will follow. Children pick up on adults’ attitudes about food, so be aware of your approaches to eating, too. Don’t expect a child to try a variety of foods if you regularly eat chips for dinner. If you view food as a collection of unwanted calories, your child may adopt a similar outlook. Instead, turn mealtimes into a pleasurable time – talk about your day while eating together as a family.
Bite your tongue. As hard as this may be, try not to comment on what or how much your kids are eating. Be as neutral as possible. Your job as a parent is to provide food that is balanced; your kids are responsible for eating them. If you play food enforcer – saying things like “Eat your vegetables” – your child will only resist. No one wants a fight at the table.
Make mornings count. Most families don’t eat enough fiber on a daily basis, and breakfast is an easy place to sneak it in, whether it’s with oatmeal or whole grain toast. Or, do what I do and make-up batches of whole-grain pancakes that can last all week (I am a kid at heart J). For a batch that serves 6 (2 pancakes a piece), sift together ¾ cup all-purpose flour, ¾ cup whole wheat flour, 3 Tbsp. sugar, 1 ½ tsp. baking powder, ½ tsp. baking soda, ½ tsp. salt. Next mix 1 ½ cups buttermilk, 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil, 1 large egg, and 1 large egg white. Combine the liquid ingredients with the dry ingredients and there you’ve got your homemade pancake batter! If you want to make up extra, they freeze well too!
Turn off the TV, computer, tablets, and phones: You’ll also turn off the advertising and mindless snacking. Distracted eating is becoming more and more common as we are so busy in our day to day lives. Make sure to turn off all electronics and focus on your meal. The other day after running with my friend we were sitting and enjoying our coffee and her son came in from watching morning cartoons. He walked right in and asked for “Froot Loops”. I looked at her and I tried not to laugh. He’s 5 years old!! Talk about the power of advertising. He walked right in asking for what the TV advertisement showed him to eat. I’m not sure what the ad showed and what its contents were. But what I do know is that kids are young and impressionable. Kudos for the Froot Loops ad working but shame on them as well for marketing to kids an unhealthy food. (He wasn’t eating breakfast at the time, but it was on during early morning Saturday cartoons). Turn off the electronics and focus on your food, help kids learn from an early age, no distractions while eating.
Kids Eat Right™ month is designated as August every year, however, every month and every day paves the way for kids to eat right. Teaching children healthy eating habits that ensure that they’re getting the nutrients that they need starts at a young age. Getting kids to eat healthfully doesn’t have to be complicated. Variety, Balance, and Moderation along with a little patience will help kids eat right and you’re on your way!