Kids are surrounded by so many choices and marketing messages -- many of which aren't very healthy at all! Here are six tips to promote healthy eating with your kids.
1. Start at the Grocery Store
Get kids involved in the process right away by letting them help pick out fruits and vegetables. It can be fun for kids to help gather the items. They can work on skills like counting, and you can discuss different nutritional benefits. For example, explain that carrots are excellent sources of vitamin A for our vision or that oranges contain vitamin C to help our immune system. Suddenly that trip to the grocery store with the kids isn't such an ordeal but in fact, can be fun and a chance to get them started on the path to healthy eating.
2. Make Nutrition a Challenge at Home
We all know kids love games and challenges. Use the fun chart below to track their food and drinks against daily recommended amounts. Reward the child that does the best each week or reward every child that completes the chart. Use whatever reward works best for your kids (which hopefully is not a hot fudge sundae every night).
3. Teach the Difference Between Treats and Snacks
Make sure your kids understand that snacks are something that they eat every day and should be healthy. Treats, on the other hand, are those pieces of chocolate cake or other sugary items that are eaten on special occasions. Our nutritional advisors continually say that one of the biggest problems today is that many kids eat mostly treats instead of healthy snacks (or worse, they replace entire meals with treats).
4. Involve Kids in the Kitchen
Kids can help prepare food in the kitchen. They can measure portions and help cut vegetables (obviously, only if appropriate for their ages and using child-safe utensils). Similar to the grocery store, this is another chance to teach your children about nutrition. Studies have shown that they're more likely to eat healthy food if they've helped to prepare it. This can be fun and also make them feel important. You can find healthy recipes on a number of Internet sites, including the Adventure to Fitness site.
5. Start a Small Vegetable Garden or Visit a Farmer's Market
As we near spring (let's hope soon!), some of you have the ability to plant a small vegetable garden with your kids. City families often have shared gardens. If those aren't options, you can always visit a farm or farmer's market. These can be fun activities for kids and, equally important, make them more likely to eat the healthy foods that they see and grow. More and more schools are starting gardens too, and they're always looking for parents to help.
6. When You Go Out to Eat, Make It a Game
Ask your kids to identify the healthy items and the less-healthy ones. Use the outing as an opportunity to reinforce what they've been learning about nutrition and healthy eating. Give them the chance to explain to you and the rest of the family what they've learned (e.g., why carrots are good or what benefits they get from green, leafy vegetables). Of course, this can also be a chance to treat them. Tell them that it's ok to eat different items and enjoy a dessert -- but remind them that this is the exception, not the norm.
These are some of my ideas. I'd love to hear your tips and suggestions! Please share your thoughts on the Scholastic Parents Facebook Page for this article.