Proper nutrition during growth and development is critical not only for
physical and mental growth but also for building a healthy foundation
for long-term health, weight, and eating habits.
We know that today’s children are struggling with their nutrient
intake, weight, and health. In fact, the Centers for Disease
Control (CDC) shows rates of childhood obesity have more than tripled in
the last three decades.[i] And studies have confirmed that
obese children and adolescents have higher risks for cardiovascular
disease and diabetes both during their youth and during
Let’s consider the average daily
diets of kids in the United States. Data from the National Health and
Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2003-2006) confirmed the gaps
between children’s recommended and actual nutrient intakes. It found the
top sources of energy for participants, ages 2-18, to be high in sugar
and saturated fats via soda, desserts, pizza, fruit drinks, and whole
milk.[iii] Nearly 40% of their daily intake was deemed empty
In 2010, President Obama signed the
“Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act” to address the nutrient content of school
lunches, the first major overhaul in decades.[iv] Instead of high fat,
fried, high sugar, processed lunch options, the USDA proposed to
incorporate more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Unfortunately, that only covers one of three meals a day for five days
of the week.
The rest of the responsibility for
properly nourishing children rests squarely with parents. As parents, we
purchase the food and prepare the meals. We are the gatekeepers and
should be educators as well. It is important to model the right foods to
eat and to try to maintain a consistent meal schedule, whenever
possible. In our busy culture, activities and schoolwork can
bump regular rituals, like sit-down dinners. If we make family meals a
priority, our children will also view them as important.
So, how can we get our kids to eat healthier
foods? It’s critical to get them engaged in food shopping and
meal preparation. Children feel more empowered and important when they
help choose and create what the family eats.HERE ARE SOME GENERAL TIPS TO HELP YOU TO GET STARTED:
- Don’t buy into the “kid’s food” labels and their
- These foods tend to be more processed with less nutritional
- You’ll find artificial colors, additives, high sodium, high
fructose corn syrup, saturated fats and not much in the way of real
- Switch out old snacks for new (natural) snacks:
- Cottage cheese with fresh fruit (preferably
- Apple slices with all natural peanut butter
- Vegetables with hummus dip
- Homemade trail mix (almonds, cashews, dried cherries, a few
- Frozen pops made with organic yogurt
- Whole grain crackers with
- Have fresh fruits and vegetables washed and cut in the fridge
for easy access – so kids can grab and go.
- Encourage more water consumption or organic 1-2% milk. Limit
juice to 100% fruit juice and one cup a day. Avoid purchasing soda,
fruit drinks or sport drinks entirely.
- Make food colorful and fun! Open your child’s mind
to a variety of new foods by presenting them in an appealing, exciting
- Use cookie cutters for natural (nitrate and nitrite free) deli
meats and cheeses
- Skewer fresh organic fruit and cheese chunks
- Create faces, flowers, or other designs on your child’s
- Try new recipes (with your child’s input) but try not to
introduce more than one or two new foods (color, shape, texture) at a
- Make every meal a healthy balance of lean protein sources
(chicken, turkey, wild fish, grass fed beef, eggs), low-fat organic
dairy sources (milk, yogurt, cheese), fresh vegetables and fruit, whole
grains, and healthy fats (nuts, seeds, nut butters, hummus,
- Have a family “theme night” meal:
- Monday is Italian night, Tuesday is Asian night …
- Wednesday is Wacky night – have breakfast for dinner or eat
from cups vs. plates
- Thursday is Kid’s night – your child picks the menu (with your
nutritious balance discretion) and helps shop, prepare and
As parents, we need to guide our children in healthy
eating habits. Engaging our children in food purchases, meal
balance design and preparation are first steps in making healthy eating a
lifelong habit for the entire family.
article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor
as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical
advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the
choice and risk of the reader.
[i] National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (CDC). Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Curtin LR, Lamb MM, Flegal KM. Prevalence of high body mass index in US children and adolescents, 2007–2008. JAMA 2010;303(3):242–9.
[ii] Freedman, DS, et al. Cardiovascular risk factors and excess adiposity among overweight children and adolescents: the Bogalusa heart study. J Pediatrics. Jan 2007; 150 (1): 12-17.
[iii] Reedy, J, Krebs-Smith, SM. Dietary sources of energy, solid fats, and added sugars among children and adolescents in the US. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010; 110 (10): 1477-1484.
[iv] The White House Office of the Press Secretary- Press Release Dec 13, 2010.