Many kids seem to live on chips and soda, so why does it matter what they eat now?
“It’s not just about their nutrition at a young age, it’s also about building the right habits for when they’re older and have to deal with diet a little bit more,” says Dr. Lichtmann. “If you are overweight as an adult, you’re at much higher risk for issues like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and early heart disease.”
Of course, it’s not always easy to get your kids to eat healthy, especially with the abundance of processed foods that are high in fat, sugar and calories. Even beverages that may seems like good choices, such as chocolate milk and fruit juice, are high in sugar. Sugary sodas and energy drinks not only provide empty calories, they usually have little to no nutritional value and may be packed with chemicals.
Dr. Coffin suggests the following daily guidelines to help kids get the nutrients they need without the empty calories they don’t:
Aim to have a fruit or vegetable about four or five times a day, spread throughout the day. Get creative. Toss a handful of spinach into a smoothie made with strawberries and almond milk. Try zucchini bread or roasted veggies with a little olive oil. Serve raw veggies with hummus.
Cheese sticks, almond milk and Greek yogurt with fresh berries are all good choices. Even ice cream is fine in moderation, as long as it isn’t every day.
“Protein and iron are the main reasons I encourage people to eat meat,” says Dr. Coffin. “If you don’t eat meat, I recommend getting advice from a pediatric nutritionist to make sure that there are no holes in the diet.”
You don’t need to have dessert every day. In addition, you can replace sugary, fatty desserts with something like fresh fruit and a touch of whipped cream, or a frozen fruit bar with no added sugar.
Dr. Lichtmann notes that foods that need to be refrigerated are often healthier because they are perishable and less processed than pantry snacks. Try to keep them readily available.
“When you’re hungry is not the time to have to prepare your food,” says Dr. Coffin. “So you go with whatever is easy. You can have cheese sticks or yogurt in the refrigerator or cut up fruits and vegetables ahead of time.”
In addition to offering smarter food choices, try other tips to help get your kids to learn to eat healthy for life:
Involve your kids with food and drink choices to help them feel more invested in what they eat. “Kids love to pick out what they're going to eat later,” says Dr. Coffin. “They’re proud that they picked out a good apple at the store.”
Adds Dr. Lichtmann: “I have a toddler, and I ask her if she wants the banana or the avocado. If she gets to choose the food, she’s more likely to eat it.”
A single scoop of ice cream is often much smaller than you’d be served at a restaurant or ice cream shop. One big bakery cookie may be the equivalent of three or four cookies.
Place a new food on the plate next to familiar foods and encourage your child to just try it. “It can take a kid 10 times or maybe more of trying a food before they actually think they like it,” says Dr. Coffin. “Keep offering, and over time that diet will expand.”
When you make mealtimes a family event, you’re more likely to eat healthier foods.
“The changes that you make with your kid's diet really should be a family thing,” says Dr. Lichtmann. “Making it part of your family’s culture is one of the best ways to build good habits.”