Helping Children Make Healthy Food Choices
By Amanda Henderson, Safe Children
PUBLISHED: March 28, 2019
There are several reasons to encourage healthy eating in children. For one, people develop dietary habits in their youth that can stick with them throughout adulthood, so if a child learns to only love junk food, they may develop an aversion to healthy food. By introducing fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed fare at an early age, children learn to develop a taste for these foods.
Unfortunately, many children are battling obesity. Increased weight brings a host of health issues, including several problems that many only associate with older adults. Diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure are affecting obese children at alarming rates. Worse, an obese child most often grows up to be an obese adult.
Most experts agree that poor diet and lack of exercise are the root causes of childhood obesity. Adding more activity to a child’s routine is a fairly simple task. Kids can get exercise in school through gym class and extracurricular activities. Even having your children walk more may help, so whatever your child is interested in doing that gets them moving, encourage them to make it part of their regular routine.
Making a Dietary Plan
Incorporating healthier options into a child’s life requires organization and major changes in the way that children and their parents relate with food. It’s a tough balancing act. On one hand, parents want to encourage their children to participate in activities, but on the other hand, doing so can result in a hectic schedule with little time for sitting down for a healthy meal. Over-filled schedules often leave families reliant on fast food, but a well-thought out plan can help families overcome the obstacles presented by an overloaded itinerary.
Try slowly incorporating new, healthier foods to your kids. You can start by swapping their favorite snacks for more nutritious substitutions. Popcorn, for example, can be a healthy treat if you make it yourself rather than buy it bagged, which contains loads of added oil and sodium. Get them excited for the switch by having them prepare plain kernels in a cute, kid-approved microwave popper, and topping it with seasonings you make together in your own kitchen. Whether you go salty, sweet, or savory, your kids won’t mind the switch, and it will ease them into the transition of opting for healthier food choices. As you teach your kids to eat healthier, they can learn to cook as well. A toaster oven can be perfect for beginner cooks because it’s much safer than a standard oven.
If your family cannot all get together for a wholesome, home-cooked meal on weeknights, try making breakfast and lunch better meals for everyone. Instead of sugary cereals or donuts, commit as a family to get up together and spend quality time having fruit, yogurt, or egg dishes. Your kids will get to school full and ready for the day. When packing their lunches, resist the temptation to fill their bags with snack cakes and chips. Instead, offer them healthy sides. A lot of children claim to despise veggies, but try experimenting with some simple ones, like sliced cucumber and baby carrots, until you find one they like. Fruit is also filling, and it ends a lunch on a healthy, sweet note.
Healthy Meals on a Budget
Some families cite cost as a reason to steer toward fast food, but when you step back and examine grocery budgets, you’ll find that wholesome meals are cheaper than prepackaged and fast foods. Here are some tips to rein in your food budget and incorporate fresh, healthy choices:
- Reduce food waste. Buy and cook only what you need, and wrap, store, or freeze leftovers. Take a cue from restaurant playbooks, and repurpose leftover meats and vegetables into stews and soups.
- Stretch your food dollar by keeping an eye out for sales and coupons.
- Stick with inherently cheap, healthy choices. Bananas, oranges, apples, cabbage, and sweet potatoes are often the least expensive options in the produce aisle.
- Don’t pay for convenience. Pre-cut cheese slices, skinless chicken breasts, and pre-sliced apples all balloon the unit price of simple products. Shave your food costs by learning to break down whole chickens and avoiding pre-cut items when possible.
By mapping out a plan and focusing on healthy choices, your children can develop new, healthier relationships with food. The best part? These habits will last them a lifetime.
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