A healthy diet includes a variety of nutritious foods. Proper nutrition is especially important for children because it supports the rapid physical growth and brain development occurring throughout childhood.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that nutrition and health are closely linked. Poor nutrition and lower levels of physical activity are associated with an increase in the following chronic diseases among both youths and adults:
To reverse this unhealthy trend, The Dietary Guidelines Key Recommendations suggests healthy food habits that include eating:
Parents and caregivers may find it difficult to get kids to adopt the guidelines’ healthy eating habits, but these 10 tips may help:
Ask kids to choose recipes for the week and to help with preparation. Young kids can wash fruits or veggies and tear lettuce greens. Older kids can measure ingredients and cut up fruits or vegetables (under supervision).
Go beyond the supermarket —consider a visit to your local farmers’ markets. Even better, take them to a local farm. Many families have vegetable gardens or raise chickens, which is a great way to get kids interested in growing and eating healthy foods.
If your child is used to whole milk, switching directly to skim milk may backfire. Instead, switch first to 2 percent and, after a while, to skim milk. If your child loves juice, water it down over time to transition them to drink more water.
If your child is an aspiring athlete, point out that nutrition is key to muscle growth and athletic performance. For those who want to be video gamers, link nutrition to brain development and faster processing.
The more convenient healthy snacks are, the easier they are to choose. Place healthy foods on the kitchen counter or the middle shelf of the refrigerator. Spend a few minutes at the beginning of the week cutting carrots or hard-boiling eggs for fast, nutritious, on-the-go snacks.
Kids will eat better if you don’t provide unhealthy options. Avoid stocking your pantry with processed foods that have low nutritional value.
Make a healthy lunch palatable by choosing themes, such as “Wrap Wednesdays.” You can also experiment with cutting foods into fun shapes or including tasty dips for their fruits or veggies.
Kids take cues from the adults in their lives. Set the tone for them by choosing healthy snacks yourself and drinking plenty of water. Eating together as a family gives you a chance to demonstrate how to enjoy healthy foods. Don’t stress that kids finish their servings — letting kids choose how much to eat discourages overeating and the potential for obesity.
Don’t force your kids to eat foods they don’t like. Rather, give them healthy options and keep offering things they say they don’t like. Start a “no-thank-you bite” rule where they have to try at least one bite of every food on their plate. Over time they may develop a taste for more foods.
Instead of corn, peas and carrots try to introduce new options, such as sweet peppers, sugar snap peas and cucumber slices. Give your kids access to a variety of foods to help them become more adventurous, healthier eaters down the road.