Getting Your Child To Eat Healthier Starts With These 3 Key Elements
It’s no secret that children are notorious for their aversion to healthy foods (many adults are, too!), and it can feel impossible to get your child to eat what’s good for them. However, many parents don’t realize that healthy eating is more than limiting calories and fat and force-feeding vegetables. In reality, there are three key elements that parents should be prioritizing: vitamins and minerals, less sugar, and healthy breakfasts.
Let’s take them in order:
Vitamins and Minerals
Yes, looking closely at nutrition facts for calories, fat, and carbohydrates is a good place to start, but it can sometimes be irrelevant for children. Young kids’ dietary needs are more centered around vitamins and minerals, and most nutrition information is based on an adult diet. Meal planning, for the most part, should be oriented around six main vitamins and minerals:
Foods that are good sources of these vitamins and minerals include:
●Calcium: Milk, cheese, yogurt, dark leafy greens, tofu, broccoli, green snap beans, almonds, canned fish
●Vitamin B: Seafood, bran cereals, beef, turkey, chicken, eggs
●Vitamin C: Strawberries, cherries, citrus fruits, papayas, kiwi, bell peppers, brussels sprouts, melons, dark leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes
●Vitamin D: Fatty fish, canned tuna, mushrooms, fortified milk, some orange juices, egg yolks, fortified cereal
●Iron: Spinach, squash and pumpkin seeds, seafood, cashews, peanuts, almonds, beef, beans
●Iodine: Cranberries, sea vegetables, seafood, milk, yogurt, baked potatoes, baked turkey breast, dried prunes, tuna, hard boiled eggs, bananas, strawberries, corn, green beans
Keep in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list. These vitamins and minerals are found in many common foods and healthy snack bars -- you just need to know where to look.
Limiting Sugar Intake
Limiting sugar intake is no easy task -- not only because kids universally love it, but because it’s in almost everything, even foods that don’t taste the least bit sweet. Limiting sugar intake requires vigilance, responsibility, and willpower, especially at the grocery store. It’s important to understand that there are many words on ingredient labels that are actually just code words for sugar. The most common, by far, is high-fructose corn syrup, but there are a myriad of others, such as corn sweetener, invert sugar, malt sugar, raw sugar, syrup, molasses, fruit juice concentrates, and any sugar molecules that end in “-ose,” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, and sucrose).
Look out for these buzzwords and try to avoid foods or drinks that have any combination of these terms. The biggest culprit of sugar, in many cases, comes from beverages such as soda, chocolate milk, and fruit juices. Eliminating these beverages alone can do wonders in decreasing your child’s sugar intake. Aside from that, it may help to allow your child to enjoy a small dessert to satisfy their sweet tooth after they’ve finished their healthier foods. Limit the dessert to one scoop of ice cream or one or two small cookies. If your child knows they’ll be rewarded for their healthy eating, they’ll be extra motivated.
The stresses and struggles of those fast-paced chaotic mornings are all too familiar for most parents. Not only are they rushing to wake their children up and get them ready for school, but they also need to take care of themselves as well. However, in the midst of all the commotion, it’s critical to take a few minutes to sit your child down and feed them a balanced breakfast. A healthy breakfast is truly the foundation of a good day: while kids who consistently skip breakfast tend to be either tired, irritable, or restless, kids who eat a good breakfast every day will remain more alert, focused, and energetic throughout the day, in addition to having a better overall attitude.
Studies have continually shown a healthy breakfast to be a major factor in children who have higher test scores, better class attendance, fewer aggressions, and better weight control. If you’ve ever sent your child to school without feeding them breakfast, you (or at least your child’s teachers) have probably noticed that their behavior is as different as night and day.
Making time for breakfast doesn’t have to be difficult, either. Just set your alarm a few minutes earlier, stock up on breakfast foods that are healthy and easy, such as oatmeal, fresh or canned fruit, healthy snack bars, hard boiled eggs, and whole grain cereals, and give your child the freedom to choose which option they’d like. They’ll be fully satisfied and ready for another day of learning in no time.
Ultimately, getting your child to eat healthier starts with small steps. Don’t expect permanent changes to happen in one day, or even one week. Healthy eating habits take time, effort, and continual positive recognition. And most of all, always be a good role model for your children, inside and outside of the kitchen.