Nutrition for kids is based on the same principles as nutrition for adults. Everyone needs the same types of nutrients — such as vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Children, however, need different amounts of specific nutrients at different ages.
So what’s the best formula to fuel your child’s growth and development?
- Start with breakfast: Eating a balanced breakfast with protein is a great way for your child to start their day. Protein can help them stay fuller longer. It even can help teenagers lose weight. Mornings can be hectic. Try one of these for a healthy on-the-go breakfast:
- Fresh Fruit
- Hard-boiled egg
- Home-made energy bars
- Make mealtimes a priority: Sitting down at the table as a family is an important part of establishing healthy eating habits. But it’s more than just eating together. Mealtimes are also a chance to:
- Provide your kids comfort.Children thrive on routine. Knowing they have dinner or other meals with their family regularly helps them feel safe.
- Monitor their eating habits.Older kids and teenagers spend more time eating at school or at friends’ houses. Use this time to watch what and how they eat. See if there is anything you can do to encourage better habits.
- Set an example for your child.If you prepare and eat healthy foods yourself, your child will eat healthier, too. Avoid obsessive calorie-counting. Don’t talk negatively about yourself. Your child could adopt the same attitudes. This could lead him or her to develop body image issues or negative associations with food.
- Make small shifts to healthier foods: You don’t have to overhaul your entire meal plan. Just find a few alternatives to unhealthy items in your fridge or pantry. Slowly start adding in more until you’ve adopted healthier food choices.
- Limit sugar: Sugar occurs naturally in many foods. These include fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products. We get all the sugar we need from these foods. Many foods have added sugar. At best, all this extra sugar just adds empty calories to our diets. At worst, it can contribute to hyperactivity, mood disorders, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Sugar is often added to foods we wouldn’t think had sugar in them. These include bread, canned soup or vegetables, condiments such as ketchup, frozen meals, and fast food. For the best health, we should avoid or reduce the amounts of these foods we eat. Here are some tips for reducing the amount of sugar in your and your children’s diets.
- Don’t ban sweets.Saying your child can’t have doughnuts or cake ever again can create cravings. When they do have a sweet treat, they tend to overindulge. Just make these kinds of foods a special treat instead of a regular part of their diet.
- Modify recipes.Many recipes taste just as good with less sugar added. Try reducing the amount of added sugar by half and see how it comes out.
- Avoid sugary drinks.It is recommended that children should have no more than 12 grams of sugar a day (3 teaspoons). Yet 1 can of regular soda has 40 grams (10 teaspoons) of added sugar. Cutting out sodas and juices is an easy way to reduce sugar.
- Eat more fruit.The fruit has plenty of natural sugar. Eat more to satisfy your sugar cravings. Make desserts that are centered around fruit. Try a fruit smoothie instead of a milkshake.
- Make fruits and veggies more appealing: The first step to making fruits and veggies appealing is to get rid of unhealthy sweets and salty snacks. Your child might want a salty snack, such as potato chips. But if there aren’t any in the house, he or she will be more likely to enjoy carrots with hummus. After that, try some of these ideas:
- Keep fresh fruit on hand.Keep whole fruit out where your child can see it. Just a bowl with apples and bananas on the kitchen table serves as a reminder. Plus, whole fruit is an easy snack to grab on your way out the door. This is helpful for older children.
- Let kids choose.When you’re shopping, let your child pick what produce sounds good to them. They know what they are more likely to want to eat.
- Hide veggies in other food.Your child will never know he or she is eating vegetables if you hide them in other foods. Shredding them and adding them is an easy way to get them in. You can shred or grate veggies such as zucchini or carrots into stews, spaghetti sauce, meatloaf, or casseroles. Or you can bake them in muffins or bread.
- Be a role model.Kids eat the way you eat. Follow these tips yourself, and your child will be more likely to eat that way too.
- Start them young.Food preferences develop early in life. Expose your child to different kinds of food early on, and continue as they grow older.
- Don’t force them to eat.Don’t make your child “clean their plate.” They need to learn to listen to their bodies. When they feel full and are allowed to stop eating, they are less likely to overeat.
- Skip the food reward.When you use food as a reward or to show affection, your child could start using food to cope with their emotions. Instead, give them hugs, praise, attention, or time together.
- Put limits on screen time.When you put limits on TV, computer, or video game time, your child will tend to find something more active to do. Also, snacking while watching TV leads to mindless eating, and your child will take in more calories than they should.
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