The levels of obesity and diabetes among children are rising at an alarming rate, according to organizations such as the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, American Heart Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So many TV channels, Internet choices and computer games have made staying indoors more attractive than exercise for many children, while their poor diets contain high levels of fat, cholesterol and calories. Teaching children about good nutrition can help you stem the tide in the growing battle against excess weight and poor health.
Get Them Involved
Include your children in buying and preparing the food your family eats. Kids react to responsibility with a sense of pride because it makes them feel that adults respect their input. Let your child help make the grocery list before the two of you head to the store. Compare similar food items, such as two different loaves of bread, and ask your child which one she thinks you should buy. Ask her what healthy foods she thinks her siblings and parents might like.
Once the food is home, have your child help plan dinner menus, making sure all of the food groups are covered. Plan several meals in advance. Have her pack her own school lunch, and occasionally, those for her siblings and working parents.
Teach your kids how to make healthy versions of their favorites, including low-cal, low-fat and low-cholesterol (but great-tasting) spaghetti, pizza, chicken fingers, fries, tacos, burgers and mac and cheese. You’ll both be surprised at how easy it is to make healthy comfort food by using a few, simple substitutions. Check out our article on healthy holiday dishes to see how you can make preparing a Thanksgiving or Christmas feast a fun, healthy parent/child activity.
Go to the Source
Visit orchards, farms, dairies and nature preserves where your children can see how food is grown, meet the people who grow food and the animals from which milk, cheese and eggs come, and pick their own berries. Their meals will have more meaning if they see that their food didn’t start out in a box or can. These types of trips may encourage children to want to plant their own summer vegetable gardens and begin eating more whole, fresh foods.
Get Them to Buy Into the Plan
Don’t lecture your child about his bad eating habits or forbid certain foods. Kids are going to eat what their friends are eating when they are out of the house. Rather than focusing on what they shouldn’t eat, encourage them to eat healthy at home. As they get used to this, their eating habits and preferences will likely change when they are out of the home.
Read Nutrition Labels
Teach kids how to read ingredients and nutrition labels. Let them see that what they think are fruit juices are often primarily water and sweeteners, with as little as 10 percent real fruit. Explain the percentages on nutrition labels so they know how much of their recommended daily allowance of both good and bad nutrients (such as saturated fat) a serving of their favorite foods provides. Help them learn to calculate the amount of calories per serving a package or food offers.