Healthy Eating For Your Kids

April Weinberger, MD
Corvallis Family Medicine
1037 Main Street
Corvallis, MT 59828
(406) 961-4661


Healthy Eating For Your Kids
As another summer is coming to a close we are sending our children off to school. It is a great time to focus on their nutrition. The local fruits and vegetables are in full swing. We are packing them away into healthy lunches and snacks to help them fuel their brains for learning. With so many options available and so little time to prepare it can be difficult to find the best choices. Sometimes the claims that packaged foods make such as "healthy" and "all natural" may not really be true. It can also be challenging to encourage our children to eat what we know is best for them. So how can we provide them with the right choices?

Offer your child a variety of different foods. Children will happily eat the same things every day but they may be missing out on the nutrients their growing bodies need. Select a mix of the five food groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, low-fat-dairy, and quality protein. Encourage children to eat the rainbow of different colors of fruits and vegetables. Each is packed with different nutrients. Keeping healthy vegetables ready and available on the kitchen table or counter and in the front of the refrigerator can encourage your kids to eat them as snacks. They should be getting five or more servings a day. Quality protein sources such as nuts, beans, and lean meat are also an important part of every meal. Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and whole wheat provide fiber and energy your child needs. Arrange their plates with ½ vegetables and fruit, ¼ lean protein, and ¼ whole grains.

Avoid processed foods. They are so popular because of how easy they are to prepare. Unfortunately, much of their nutrients are lost and they are packed with sugar and salt. Just because a food is marketed as healthy doesn't mean it is. Using these foods sparingly is important to a healthy diet. Watching labels is also important. Replacing processed foods with fruits and vegetables and other whole foods can do a lot to improve your child's health. These foods should be less visible in your home, in the back of the fridge or panty or placed away in less visible containers.

The ideal drink for all children is water. Juice and sports drinks may be thought of as "healthy" but most of these have as much sugar as soda. It is much better for your child to get their vitamins from whole fruit instead of juice. Juice adds unnecessary sugar and may harm your child's teeth. Sometimes it can be difficult to encourage water drinking if your child is not used to it. Adding a couple of slices of their favorite fruit may make it tastier. You can slowly wean your child off of juice by adding more and more water to juice over time. If you do give your child juice, give them less than 4 ounces per day and make sure that it is 100% juice. Milk is also a healthy option. It is packed with calcium and protein that young bodies need. Your child should be getting 3 half-cup servings of milk daily. Avoid chocolate milk as it is high in added sugar.

How do I deal with my picky eater? The answer is dip! Using dip to encourage fruit and vegetable eating in children is key. Limit it to 1-2 tablespoons per serving. Add a small amount of yogurt to your child's fruit for snack. Dressing can help them to eat vegetables more regularly. Hummus makes a great high protein dip for vegetables. Nut butters are high in protein and can encourage both fruit and vegetable intake. Don't give up and don't force your child to eat. Offer new foods with familiar foods that you know they like. Offer new choices over and over again. It can take many tries to tolerate a new flavor or texture. Let you child choose and participate in making the food. If they pick a new vegetable out from the store and help prepare it they are much more likely to give it a try. Cut up foods into bite sized pieces and fun shapes. Do not to use your child's favorite food or dessert as a reward for good behavior or for eating healthy things. This teaches them that healthy food is less valuable than other foods.

Healthy snacks are a good way to introduce new foods. Children should be getting 2-3 snacks per day depending on age. You don't have to be a great cook to give your child a nutritious snack. Try string cheese with carrots or another cut up vegetable. Apple slices go great with peanut butter, keep them from turning brown with a dash of lemon or orange juice. Whole fruits such as apples, bananas and pears make wonderful snacks. Dried fruit is easy to bring along, just watch labels for added sugar. Whole grain crackers spread with nut butter or hummus are also easy. Mini muffins made with carrot, banana, pumpkin, or zucchini are fun sized snacks that freeze easily. Make a ready to eat snack mix with dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and whole grain cereal. Smoothies also make portable snacks; blend low fat milk or plain yogurt with fruit, nut butter, and even greens such as spinach.
There are many easy ways to encourage healthy eating in your child. First of all eat together. Family meals allow conversations to take place. They encourage your child to participate in making their food. They will see you eating healthy foods. Kids who eat at the table instead of in front of the TV or computer eat less and make healthier choices. Encourage your kids to eat a variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Encourage them to drink mostly water and milk. Help them to avoid highly processed foods by making fruits and vegetables front and center in the fridge and on the counter. Slowly encourage picky eaters to try new things. Present their food in fun ways and don't be afraid to use dip. Check out healthychildren.org to get more ideas on meal planning and more. Just a few small changes can help positively affect your child's lifelong relationships with food.

Questions and or comments regarding this week's health column please contact April Weinberger, MD at Corvallis Family Medicine, a Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital owned clinic, 1037 Main Street, Corvallis, MT 59828. Working together to build a healthier community!

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