A healthy diet includes a variety of nutritious foods. Proper nutrition is especially important for children because it supports the rapid physical growth and brain development occurring throughout childhood.
Benefits of eating healthy
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that nutrition and health are closely linked. Poor nutrition and lower levels of physical activity are associated with an increase in the following chronic diseases among both youths and adults:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Excess weight and obesity
To reverse this unhealthy trend, The Dietary Guidelines Key Recommendations suggests healthy food habits that include eating:
- A variety of vegetables from different subgroups
- Whole fruits
- Grains, 50 percent of which should be whole-grain
- Low-fat dairy or fortified-soy beverages
- Proteins from various sources — seafood, lean meats, soy and nuts
- A limited amount of unhealthy fats, salt and sugar
Inspire healthy eating in kids
Parents and caregivers may find it difficult to get kids to adopt the guidelines’ healthy eating habits, but these 10 tips may help:
Get kids into the kitchen
Ask kids to choose recipes for the week and to help with preparation. Young kids can wash fruits or veggies and tear lettuce greens. Older kids can measure ingredients and cut up fruits or vegetables (under supervision).
Show them where food comes from
Go beyond the supermarket —consider a visit to your local farmers’ markets. Even better, take them to a local farm. Many families have vegetable gardens or raise chickens, which is a great way to get kids interested in growing and eating healthy foods.
Make incremental changes
If your child is used to whole milk, switching directly to skim milk may backfire. Instead, switch first to 2 percent and, after a while, to skim milk. If your child loves juice, water it down over time to transition them to drink more water.
Speak their language
If your child is an aspiring athlete, point out that nutrition is key to muscle growth and athletic performance. For those who want to be video gamers, link nutrition to brain development and faster processing.
Keep healthy foods at eye level
The more convenient healthy snacks are, the easier they are to choose. Place healthy foods on the kitchen counter or the middle shelf of the refrigerator. Spend a few minutes at the beginning of the week cutting carrots or hard-boiling eggs for fast, nutritious, on-the-go snacks.
Don’t bring the unhealthy stuff home
Kids will eat better if you don’t provide unhealthy options. Avoid stocking your pantry with processed foods that have low nutritional value.
Make healthy (but fun) school lunches
Make a healthy lunch palatable by choosing themes, such as “Wrap Wednesdays.” You can also experiment with cutting foods into fun shapes or including tasty dips for their fruits or veggies.
Be a role model for healthy food habits
Kids take cues from the adults in their lives. Set the tone for them by choosing healthy snacks yourself and drinking plenty of water. Eating together as a family gives you a chance to demonstrate how to enjoy healthy foods. Don’t stress that kids finish their servings — letting kids choose how much to eat discourages overeating and the potential for obesity.
Put up with picky eaters
Don’t force your kids to eat foods they don’t like. Rather, give them healthy options and keep offering things they say they don’t like. Start a “no-thank-you bite” rule where they have to try at least one bite of every food on their plate. Over time they may develop a taste for more foods.
Vary the foods you offer
Instead of corn, peas and carrots try to introduce new options, such as sweet peppers, sugar snap peas and cucumber slices. Give your kids access to a variety of foods to help them become more adventurous, healthier eaters down the road.