From Fork to Spoon: Four Ways to Help Kids Eat Healthier
According to the CDC, the rate of childhood obesity in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970s, with genetics, metabolism, and physical activity behaviors acting as contributing factors. The good news is one of the most impactful factors is one of the most controllable – eating habits. When adults play an active role in encouraging healthy food choices at home, the likelihood of childhood obesity can be drastically decreased.
In a time where many parents, guardians, and caregivers are balancing work and supporting children in a virtual learning environment, spare time is limited and it may seem easier to offer pre-packaged snacks like chips and fruit snacks or pick up the phone to order delivery for dinner. What should children eat instead? There are numerous health benefits of following lifestyle medicine guidelines and offering the entire family nutritious, plant-based foods.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a child’s diet founded on unprocessed, whole plant foods can reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases compared to children eating a Standard American Diet (SAD), as a plant-based diet is rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, all nutrients that can easily meet the nutritional needs of growing children. Children raised on a plant-based diet also experience lower rates of acne, allergies, ear infections, digestive issues, and chronic diseases later in life.
To help incorporate healthy eating habits into your home – no matter the age – read on for our best tips on getting children, and you, on board!
Getting kids accustomed to a plant-based diet may be difficult at first, but rather than “disguising” food, be upfront about your what your kids are eating as nearly all taste preferences are learned. Set an example for children by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables yourself and strive to keep family meals the same for everyone, with the only potential difference being the amount of spices for children. Taking the time to sit and be together during meals demonstrates the value of spending time together and can reinforce the importance of healthy eating. Research on family meals has found that children often feel more connected and comfortable speaking with their family when they’re eating together, so try your best to make it a priority – you can start small by setting a goal to eat one meal together every day.
Get Them Involved
To get kids excited about their meals, let them decide what’s on the menu! Sit down with them to discuss future meals and snacks and ask for their help in planning for the week. Take them with to the grocery store or farmers market and make a game of recognizing different fruits and vegetables to get them comfortable with what will be on their plate. Your family can even start growing small produce on your own, such as herbs on a windowsill or a tomato plant outside.
Another way to involve children in the kitchen is by giving them simple tasks, such as washing the produce, mixing ingredients, or setting the table. Once it’s time to sit down for the meal, remind them what a balanced plate looks like and make sure you’re leading by example. Not sure where to start? Check out some fresh, lifestyle medicine approved recipes here!
Offer Whole-Food, Plant-Based Options
Children have much higher metabolisms compared to adults and a healthy diet should include calorie-dense foods high in complex carbs and fats, like nut butters, hummus, or avocado. Don’t label foods as good or bad, but instead offer choices that are more nutritious.
- Carbs – offer choices from a variety of unprocessed, plant-based sources like vegetables, fruit, beans, whole grain breads, or pastas
- Fats – let your child choose from options with omega-3 fatty acids, such as chia seeds, walnuts, avocado, nuts, seeds, and nut butters
- Proteins – higher protein plant foods options to include in meals could be beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, whole grains, and vegetables
Make Healthy Swaps
If you’re worried about how children will respond to new food choices, start small by making healthy food swaps for their normal choices. Cereal is a great example – instead of choosing a heavily processed cereal, look for a single-grain or brown rice cereal geared toward kids, such as one that comes in fun shapes. Make it sweeter by adding in fruit to their bowl, like assorted berries. Having quick snack options prepped in advance for the week can serve as a replacement for processed snacks on busy days. Easy options include pre-washed and sliced strawberries ready in the refrigerator or prepping some sliced vegetables with hummus to quickly grab before your children head out the door.
Premise Health believes a healthy lifestyle is the foundation of disease prevention, treatment, and reversal, and is committed to integrating a lifestyle medicine approach to care into every member touchpoint. Often broken into seven different pillars, lifestyle medicine can make a big impact on overall wellbeing, regardless of where a member is on their care journey. Learn more about our approach to wellness and nutrition here.