Healthy meals and appropriate snacks are essential to your child’s growth and development. Children who do not get adequate nutrition can face physical and mental health problems in adulthood. Setting a good example at a young age by teaching the benefits of healthy eating will help your child to develop a lifetime of healthy eating habits. Getting your child started on choosing healthy foods doesn’t have to be a battle, even if they are a picky eater. Keep reading for some tips and ideas to help you build a better plate.
The Food Pyramid for Kids
The Food & Drug Administration has updated the content and look of the food pyramid for children. Following these recommendations will provide your child with the needed vitamins and minerals. Your child’s age determines how much they need to eat from each food group daily. Keep these nutritional considerations in mind when planning meals and snacks.
- Grains: Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta
- Dairy: Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese
- Proteins: Meat, Poultry, Fish, Beans, Eggs, and Nuts
- Fats and Oils
Get your kids cooking. Having your child help in the kitchen while you prepare meals and snacks is a great way to teach them about preparing food and learn about the foods they are cooking. It can also make picky eaters interested in trying the foods that they make.
Empower your child. Let your child select choices from each food group on the food pyramid. They are more likely to eat meals and snacks that they have chosen. Encourage them to try new things along with their favorites.
Make it fun. This is one time when playing with your food is encouraged. You want your child to have a positive association with healthy eating. Get creative with your presentation. For example, we need to eat a rainbow of colors to be healthy. Make a rainbow of sliced banana, berries, strawberries, carrots, and grapes for your child’s snack. Let them make faces on their plates with food. Use cookie cutters to create shaped mini-sandwiches. Make patterns with food. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination.
A Healthy Breakfast for a Good Start
Your body needs breakfast to refuel. Kids who eat breakfast are more likely to eat healthier throughout the day and partake in physical activity. Skipping breakfast can make your child tired by mid-morning. This can affect both their mood and their ability to learn in school. A healthy breakfast will help them to concentrate and can improve their attention span.
In a typical rushed morning, it can be difficult to get your child to eat a good breakfast. What your child eats is just as important as eating breakfast. A sugary toaster pastry or breakfast bar may be fast and easy, but many of these are high in sugar and have the nutritional value of candy. Consider these ideas to encourage a healthy breakfast for kids:
Keep healthy grab and go options. Fresh fruit, yogurt, raisins and nuts, and snack-size boxes of fruit will be healthy and easy to eat while walking or riding to school on those days you are running late.
Let your child plan breakfast or help prepare it. Easy fixings include: Peanut butter on whole wheat toast. Fruit smoothies. Slicing fruit for cereal or oatmeal topping. Cracking eggs or mixing up the omelet. Even young children can pitch in by washing fruit.
Kids love to snack on sweet and salty foods. The problem with these types of foods, in addition to being detrimental to health, is that they can trigger a response that makes the child overeat. Salt and sugar can cause cravings that make children reject healthier fruits and vegetables as well as increase their portion sizes. Avoid these options whenever possible. Some healthy, appealing snack ideas are:
- Fruit with yogurt dip. A vanilla or strawberry yogurt makes a yummy dip for fresh fruit.
- Apple slices dipped in peanut butter.
- Fresh vegetables with a ranch or vegie dip.
- Fruit and cheese kabobs.
- Frozen banana. Add a few mini chocolate chips for eyes and a smile to make a sweet but healthy treat.
- Turkey rollups. Layer cheese on thinly sliced turkey and roll it up for a fun finger food.
- Baked sweet potato fries. If you have a child who is craving junk food, sweet potato fries are far healthier than white potatoes.
Understanding healthy food choices will help your child to make good decisions. The best way for them to learn and to develop healthy eating habits is for you to do the same.