With all the convenient processed and packaged foods available to us today, it’s difficult to not reach for these items in the grocery store. They are pre-packaged in pretty packaging and are made so convenient and easy to eat from that parents literally save tons of time prepping in the kitchen. Unfortunately, many packaged foods, even if they promise to be healthy and all-natural, are often times not good for children to eat. So what are parents to do when they want to teach their children the lessons and value of eating nutritious AND delicious-tasting meals, even though it’s a challenge with the convenience packaged and processed foods offer? Don’t be discouraged. There are many ways to teach your children the value of good health by eating well and being active. Children are extremely impressionable and moldable. That is why it is so important to teach children the importance of eating well at a young age. Healthy eating habits should be established when children are babies and they should start being taught the lessons of healthy eating starting as early as 2 years old. There are fun ways for children to get involved in learning about healthy eating but first let’s delve into what a young child’s plate should consist of for an average meal.
A child’s meal should consist of 5 different sections that can be color-coded to make it easier for him or her to learn the process of eating well: Veggies (Green), Fruits (Red), Whole Grains (Orange), Lean Proteins (Purple), Calcium-Rich Foods (Blue). Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables that are not canned in heavy syrup or salt. If you must eat canned produce, make sure they are water-based with no added sugar or sodium. Vegetables should be eaten in a variety of colors including dark green, deep yellow, red and orange. Fruits should be a variety of apples, berries, grapes, pears, peaches, etc. Whatever is in season is always best! When choosing whole grains, make sure the wheat is not refined or enriched. It should say “Whole Wheat.” The Whole Grain Council has made it easy to find the 100% Whole Grain Stamp of Approval by looking the stamp which reads “100% Whole Grain – 16 mg of or more per serving. Look for this to make the right choice in healthy whole grains! For lean proteins, choose peas, beans, lean meats like poultry and fish, and a variety of nuts included almonds. With nuts, choose raw and unsalted. For calcium-rich foods, include fat-free or low-fat dairy products like cheese, milk (unflavored and unsweetened), and yogurt. As you can see, there are many options in which to choose from so even if your child has an allergy to something, there are more options!
To make it fun for your child to learn about healthy eating and preparing the food, get them involved! Let him or her help you prep and cook the food that is being made. Make it like a game. Call your child a chef and they will feel so important and privileged to be a part of the cooking process! They can learn how to read better, count better and learn their measurements (mathematical skills), and learn how to cook. Make it fun!
There are many children’s books available that focus on nutrition and being active so make it a point to read these books with your child at bedtime…or any time! Let them help you create grocery lists and give them some freedom to look in cookbooks to make some meals that appeal to them.
You can also color code your child’s plate and let them pick out the food that correlates to the colors/food groups mentioned above. Regardless of how you choose to do it, make meal time fun, interesting, interactive, and healthy! Your child learns from you (the parents) so it’s important to get them involved and lead through example. If you don’t have a lot of time during the week because of busy schedules, cook several meals 1-2 times a week and refrigerate or freeze them. Prepare lunch the night before…and let your child help you! Nothing is more important in this life than good health.