Feeding Your Child in the 21st Century
By Mary Henck, M.S., R.D., CDE, Clinical Nutritionist, and LaDale Coston, Dietetic Intern
Confused about what your family should eat? You're not alone. These days with both parents often working and lifestyles increasingly hectic, just managing day-to-day meals can be a challenge. So how do parents manage to feed their families healthy meals while juggling parenting with work and all the other activities that family members can be involved in?
The most important thing to remember is that parents need to be role models for their children. Children are likely to mimic the actions of their parents. It is the responsibility of parents to teach their children healthy habits at a young age. Lifestyles that are learned during childhood are likely to stay with the child into adulthood. And the best way to promote healthy lifestyles in children is to get the entire family involved.
What can parents do to help?
In terms of feeding your family, get back to the basics by including nutritious foods on a regular basis. Preparing meals and snacks that follow the food pyramid guidelines will make sure that your family will get all the vitamins and minerals they need daily. Try not to let your own food preferences influence whether your child will or will not eat a particular food. This is another example of how you may influence your child's behavior. It is important to let your child try new foods even if you don't like them. Offer a new food at least once and let your child decide if he likes it or not. Limiting certain foods, especially fruits and vegetables, from the diet can also limit many essential vitamins and minerals necessary for the growth and development of your child.
Eating on the go
Swim practice, field trips, PTA meetings, carpooling, work, school... sound familiar? More and more families are constantly on the go. Some find it hard to come home after a long, busy day and sit down for dinner. Eating on the go is the norm for many. Convenience and fast foods are a quick fix that can sometimes result in unhealthy food choices. But eating on the run does not have to be unhealthy. When planning "on the go" meals, keep the food guide pyramid in mind to make sure foods are being selected from each food group.
Sifting through the massive amount of information that bombards us every day is definitely a challenge. But one thing has not changed. Children require optimal nutrition for growth and development, and it is the parent's job to provide an environment where they can receive this. So the next time you make your grocery shopping list, make sure it includes all the basic food groups - meats, dairy, grains, fruits and veggies. Then balance that with a hefty dose of daily exercise and you can ensure your family will be well on their way to a healthier lifestyle.
Here are some ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle along with your busy schedule:
- Grab healthy foods that are portable. Yogurt, celery and carrot sticks, nuts, reduced-fat peanut butter crackers, fruit and bottled water are great choices.
- Pack your child's lunch the night before and always include bottled water or juice and fruit.
- Don't encourage your child to skip meals. It encourages excess snacking and sometimes can lead to increased weight.
- When traveling, pack healthy snacks such as vegetable sticks, sandwiches, fruit, nuts, yogurt, juice boxes and bottled water.
- Schedule exercise daily with your child even if only for 15 minutes.
If weight becomes a major concern with your child, you may want to consider evaluating the following:
- Is your family eating five fruits and vegetables a day? If not, try creative ways to include fruits and vegetables in your child's diet. Smoothies or fruit shakes are always a great and nutritious idea. Another idea is to let your child choose a "vegetable of the week" and have this vegetable for dinner one night. Encourage your child to choose a vegetable she has never tried before to get more of a variety.
- Are you super-sizing when eating out at fast food restaurants? An easy solution to this is to limit trips to fast food restaurants and try ordering healthier foods and regular-sized portions. But when you must "drive thru", order grilled chicken sandwiches (skip the mayo), wraps, mini subs and salads, and never super size.
- Are you offering high-fat, high-sugar foods to your family? These foods include fried chicken, french fries, potato chips, donuts, cakes and cookies. Too much of these foods is not healthy for a growing child. Some alternatives to these snacks are pretzels, frozen yogurt and graham crackers. Try baking meats versus frying to decrease the fat content.
- What types of drinks do you offer your family? Sodas and other soft drinks offer no nutritional value and loads of sugar. Encourage more water, low-fat or skim milk and 100% fruit juice.