From tots to teens, basic advice for healthy eating applies to everyone. Every parent or caregiver faces feeding challenges and concerns when helping children or teens grow and develop. As an adult, it’s our responsibility to be good role models for healthy eating. It’s up to us to support our children and encourage healthy food choices. For kids at any age, food can offer a world of learning experiences.With the help of our registered dietitian, Amber Worst, we have put together five ways you can help your family grow nutritionally. These rules do not just apply to the kids — they apply to us as adults, too. Check out these tips that can help you and your family grow up healthy!
1. Teach kids how to cook
This is a hands-on activity! Young children can learn innovative words by reading a recipe. They can slice, pour, or roll the dough for that hand-eye coordination. For teens, it can become more of a science experiment by watching the dough rise or observing how sugar dissolves in water. Including kids in the kitchen and teaching them how to cook not only provides skills, but also gets them comfortable to try foods and to learn where they came from.
2. Share meals
Helping kids make better food choices starts at mealtime when they can see you making healthier choices, too. In today’s busy lives, it’s not always easy to sit down for a family meal. If it’s breakfast, that works just as well as dinner. Sharing meals not only promotes bonding and communication within the family, but it increases healthy eating for both kids and parents. Kids learn by watching their parents, older siblings, and other caregivers. Research shows more vegetables and fruits are consumed when sharing a meal, and people even learn to enjoy a wider variety of foods from sharing meals as well.
3. Explore more about food
There are opportunities to gain knowledge of food that extend beyond the kitchen or the grocery store. Finding books about food can be helpful. New recipe books or books about where food comes from can help you and your kids explore more about different types of foods. Visiting a farm or an orchard is another wonderful way to learn more about food and how it’s grown or produced. Tasting something new is not just for children — it continues into adulthood. More variety keeps things interesting and increases chances for good nutrition. Helping children to become “tryers” is a crucial part of learning about food.
4. Introduce vegetables
Do you hear the word “yuck” often? Vegetables are a common challenge. Trying new foods should be about discovery, not punishment. Introduce new veggies without pressure. It may take multiple attempts before tasting turns into liking a new vegetable. Tricks to adding vegetables into the diet may be to add vegetables to the foods your children already enjoy, such as toppings on pizza or shredded into spaghetti sauce. Try to make tasting vegetables fun by doing a challenge from A to Z and check off the letters as you go!
5. Promote healthy snacking
Snacks are a terrific way to fill in nutrition gaps during the day. Snacks can be thought of as mini meals. Leaving fresh fruit on the counter or putting together single serving “grab-n-go” containers of baby carrots and dip help you and your child to select healthy options while filling nutrition gaps. Helping kids know what healthy options are available encourages them to make choices independently.
Healthy (no-cook) snack ideas for kids:
• A banana pop: Peel a banana. Dip or spread yogurt on the outside for a thin layer, then roll it in nuts, crushed cereal, or mini chocolate chips. Freeze until firm.
• Fruit and dip: Offer fruit such as cut up apples, pears, oranges, bananas, or strawberries with a flavored Greek yogurt.
• Vegetables with dip: Cut carrots, celery, cucumbers, or zucchini into sticks to dip into hummus or a prepared vegetable dip.
• Quesadilla with salsa: Fill a soft tortilla with low-fat cheese, then fold it over. Heat in a microwave until the cheese is melted. Serve with salsa.
Trying new foods is like a hobby. No one ever said helping kids become healthy eaters is easy. A variety of foods with different textures, tastes, and colors in adequate amounts provides the nutrients and energy your child needs. Consider what your child eats overall.
Most children do best with a routine — serve meals and snacks at similar times each day. There will be challenges, but remember to stay positive. Helping encourage healthy eaters without forcing or bribing will help you and your child build a healthy relationship with food.