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Nutritional Guidance

Teaching children about healthy nutrition is not hard; it simply takes time. However, with the busy schedules most families juggle today, time is the scarcest commodity. When it comes down to providing our families with healthy meals, we tend to miss the big picture. With rising childhood obesity rates and little nutritional education in schools, the onus is on parents to teach their children about the benefits of proper nutrition. Daily meals eaten together are the perfect training ground to teach your child how to eat well and make healthy choices. As with anything, leading by example is the most powerful way to influence your child.

Involve your children with daily food choices.  Take your children with you to grocery shop and involve them with meal preparation. Both are great steps toward improving their knowledge of nutrition.

Teach the difference between real food and processed foods.] It doesn’t take a nutritionist to know that, generally speaking, the less processed a food is, the better it is for you. Teach your children how to read labels and recognize additives, preservatives and colorings that have been linked to adverse health effects. Try a new fruit or vegetable every week and look up recipes together on how to prepare the new produce.

Stress the importance of drinking water.  Water should be the first choice for hydration. Give your child a goal of ½ their body weight in ounces of plain water per day to consume.  Juice and other sugar-dense (or even non-calorie artificially sweetened) beverages should be a rare treat.  If you have a juice or soda addict, then start by adding fresh fruit to water in a pitcher and let it sit for a natural but subtle sweetness.  If they insist on juice, limit it to one per day and opt for an all-natural no-sugar sweetener like a stevia-based lemonade.

Adopt the plate method.  Teach children what their plate should look like at each meal.  Every time they eat, they should have high-quality protein, a fruit or vegetable, and an unprocessed carbohydrate such as rice or potatoes.  Cook two different vegetables at mealtime so they have a variety with which to fill up half of their plate.  Use vegetables (mashed cauliflower, zucchini noodles) instead of starches when possible.  Many tools and websites help track portions and teach benefits of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, nuts, seeds and proteins (see sidebar).

All members of the family should eat breakfast daily NEVER send your child off to school without brain food: This is a recipe for poor mental focus and low energy. Try to incorporate fats into breakfast. A sugary bowl of cereal or plate of pancakes is just as bad as no food at all because a surge of glucose followed by a plummeting in glucose levels often results in subsequent sleepiness.  Healthy breakfast options rich in protein and healthy fats include Greek yogurt, eggs, almond butter toast, steel cut oats with chopped nuts, a protein shake, cold cuts and fruit.

Pack your children’s lunch—with their help.  School lunch programs have tried to adopt more healthy choices, but budgets don’t always allow for healthy flavor enhancement.  Therefore, kids are either faced with an unhealthy school lunch or a really small bland lunch that meets nutrition guidelines.  A lunch from home can provide the best of both worlds, a healthy lunch without the processed choices.  A high fiber sandwich or wrap loaded with low sodium cold cuts and vegetables with fresh fruit and some trail mix is a satisfying lunch that will keep children’s energy up during and after school.

Avoid being a “food cop.” Don’t force or nag your kids to eat foods they don’t like.  Keep healthy choices around the majority of the time, and if a treat slips in here or there, that is OK too. Learning healthy habits should be fun for the whole family and, of course, result in a long-term lifestyle change.  If your child feels deprived, he will sneak food and gorge when you are not looking.

Focus on what children need rather then what they cannot have.  Aim to have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day and protein and healthy fats at each meal. Great choices include hummus, guacamole, nuts, seeds, heart-healthy oils, and the most complex and unrefined grains and carbohydrates possible, such as quinoa, steel cut oats, brown rice, sweet potatoes and sprouted breads. If your children are properly nourished, they will not crave junk foods due to fluctuations in blood sugar levels.  Slowly clean out your pantry and replace the old not-so-healthy items with healthier versions.  Making small changes slowly will result in long-term results.  No one wants to feel like his or her diet is getting overhauled.

Dr. Keith Kantor is a nutritionist, a 27-year advocate of natural food and healthy living, and the CEO of Service Foods Inc. He is also the author of the Green Box League of Nutritious Justice, which includes exercises, fun superhero educational stories, and kid friendly recipes that the entire family will love.  There is also a free app, Green Box Heroes, which includes recipes, educational stories, coloring and exercises. 

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