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Top 3 Ways to Get Your Child to Choose Healthy Foods

Teach healthy food choicesI spend a lot of time in my family nutrition practice helping parents with their “picky eaters.” That could be the primary reason for their visit, or the picky eating could be complicated by a diagnosis that requires a child to go on a special diet in which their favorite foods are no longer on the menu. This adds layers to their nutrition issues and it is my job to peel the proverbial onion.

How do we transition our kids to the right path with minimal conflicts? What are the underlying issues associated with food battles? Every child is unique, and that cannot be understated. But there are some common denominators with them and hopefully this post will provide you with some ideas to chew on.

It is not a news flash to you that kids want to make their own choices. When parents force things on their children, the natural thing they do is push back. But does that mean we should give children all the decision-making when it comes to eating? Absolutely not. Parents often take this thought too far in allowing their children to make too many choices on their own. It’s all about guiding them. With food, provide acceptable choices from which they may choose. That is the main theme, and here are three of the most important ways in which you can implement them:

  1. Expose your children repeatedly. Expose your children to a variety of foods. This should start super early in your child’s life and continue as they grow older. Do not delete a food off your child’s menu because they reject it one time or even multiple times. Avoid saying statements such as, “He/she does not like (fill in the food).” A child’s body is growing and developing – and that includes their taste buds! Parents provide the healthy meals and the child gets to choose to eat them or not. If they don’t eat dinner because they don’t like how it looks, that’s OK! But don’t provide an alternate meal of their choice, and don’t allow them to have a snack after dinner of their own food preference. This will never encourage them to try new foods! Stay strong, Mom and Dad. If they are hungry later, you can tell them that you are more than happy to heat up their dinner plate. If you stick to your guns on this one and your kids see that throwing a tantrum does NOT get their way, they will eat the dinner. If you have this in place from the beginning, it’s less of a struggle. They don’t know any different. But if you have done this wrong in the past, communicate that this is the new way and we are not going back.
  2. Assess your home’s food environment. Each new year should involve going through the kitchen and doing a food balance assessment. When you look into your pantry and/or fridge, are 90% of the available foods healthy? If not, you may need to make some changes. We must fill our home with “always” foods and if there are any “sometimes” foods that are being over consumed, remove them from your home. Make healthy foods ready-to-eat so those snacks are as easy as grabbing a bag of chips.
  3. Involve your children. Your entire family must be a part of the entire feeding process. That includes planning, shopping (or growing!), preparing, eating and cleaning. The parents are in charge (and must stay in charge), but the children should be involved as helpers in age-appropriate ways. A toddler can help set the table while a teenager can be in charge of cooking one night. Involve your children in the “why’s” behind healthy eating as well. A family is a team and teams must work together to stay healthy so they can meet all their life’s goals. Food is literally the fuel for our precious bodies! Use the MyPlate visual as a guide to help plan meals, and have your children (school-age or older) make their own school lunches that include all the items. If they buy their lunch, go over the school menu and encourage them to use the MyPlate when choosing their lunch.

How ironic is it that being a parent is THE hardest job on the planet and there is no training manual? When it comes to raising healthy eaters, constantly be thinking about the behaviors around feeding children. Empower them to make the healthy choices so they will choose them on their own. That, my friends, is the key to raising a healthy adult.

What Foods Will Keep Your Family Healthy All Winter??

Chicken soup for the common coldThis winter, a whopping 20 percent of Americans will come down with a bad case of the flu. But you don’t have to be one of them…and neither does anyone else in your family! Research shows that, in addition to getting your flu shot, eating certain foods can help you avoid the flu — as well as colds and illness in general. Here’s what to add to your grocery cart.

Yogurt

Probiotics, the healthy bacteria in yogurt, literally crowds out invading bad bacteria that’s trying to get into your system. That’s why, in one study, people who consumed a yogurt drink that contained Lactobacillus reuteri over an 80-day period took 33 percent fewer sick days. To make sure you’re getting a good dose of probiotics, look for the words “live bacteria” and “active cultures” on the label. Bonus: Yogurt is rich in calcium, which is essential for strong, healthy teeth, and most kids love it!

Garlic

This favorite flavor-booster contains allicin, a compound that fights off bacteria. According to a large British study, people who downed a daily garlic capsule for three winter months were two-thirds less likely to catch a cold. If they did get sick, they suffered for about four fewer days. Adding cooked garlic to your food might be even more effective.

Tea

According to a Harvard study, drinking black or green tea can rev up your immune system’s T cells so they destroy bacteria more quickly. And the antioxidants in green tea are great for your teeth. A large Japanese study found that every cup reduces gum inflammation.

Salmon

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in this flavorful fish, help cells remove toxins and take in nutrients more efficiently. And a recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that people who consumed the most omega-3s decreased their risk of gum disease by 22 percent.

Chicken Soup

Don’t wait until someone in your family is sick to serve up some soup. Cysteine, an amino acid released from chicken during cooking, helps calm the usual over-the-top response your immune system has to cold germs that causes many of the worst symptoms from a stuffed-up nose to a wracking cough. And it doesn’t have to be homemade. A University of Nebraska study published in Chest found that most supermarket brands prevented and alleviated cold symptoms just as effectively. On a cold winter day, think hot bowl of soup.

Healthy Back to School Lunches Kids Will Want to Eat

For many kids across the country, school is starting and that means kids will be eating lunch away from home. Proper nutrition is important for physical health and brain function.

A child who does not get enough nutrients in her lunch or has a sugar crash shortly after lunchtime may have a harder time focusing and learning. But how do we get kids to eat healthy at school whether they are choosing from the cafeteria foods or taking a lunch from home?

Here are some ideas I shared on Oklahoma City’s KOKH Fox 25 morning show to help your kids choose or take healthy lunches they will actually want to eat and won’t trade with their friends.

Get Kids Involved in Choosing What to Eat

Kids who are given choices about what goes in their lunchbox will be more likely to eat what is packed. The key is giving two or three choices among healthy options. Would he prefer whole grain bread or a whole grain tortilla or pita pocket? Broccoli or carrots? Grapes or an apple? Milk or water?

Teach your kids what different foods do for the body and how our body needs nutrients offered by these foods to fuel it so we can do the things we need to do and the things we enjoy. Does your kid like sports or have a favorite athlete? Point out how athletes (such as all our great Olympic champions) eat healthy foods and avoid junk foods so they have the energy and the strength to participate and excel at their sport. When kids understand how healthy foods can benefit them (make them stronger, faster, and even smarter) then they will be open to eating those foods.

If your child eats the school cafeteria’s food, get a menu for the week or month and have your child make some choices from the menu before going to school. This way, you can help guide the choices. If there is not a healthy option listed for a certain day, you can plan to pack a lunch that day.

Packing a Balanced Lunch

A balanced lunch is one that consists of a serving of protein (think lean meats, low-fat cheeses, nuts or nut butter, beans), a vegetable, a fruit, a serving of whole grains (whole grain bread, whole grain tortilla or pita pocket, whole grain rice, etc.), and a dairy serving (if able to have dairy).

Let your child help choose the foods he will take to school and help assemble his lunch. Kids who make their own lunch will want to eat it. Guide the choices when needed and praise healthy choices. And remember, it is okay to pack a little sweet treat too. A small cookie, fun-size piece of candy, or other small treat helps kids learn that these foods are okay in small portions and not with every meal. All things in moderation! As long as it is a small treat, even if she eats it first, she’ll still have room for the rest of her healthy lunch.

Add some WOW Factor to Make Lunch Fun

Another way to get kids to enjoy eating healthy lunches is to make them visually appealing and fun. Think outside the boring sandwich box! Cut foods into fun shapes with cookie cutters or fun-shaped sandwich cutters. Or consider making lunchtime kabobs using wooden skewers or thick big pretzels and alternating meat cubes, cheese cubes, and cherry tomatoes or a variety of fruits and veggies. Mix up some healthy trail mix to eat instead of chips or fries or pack some pita chips, wheat crackers, or crunchy carrot sticks. The more colorful the fruits and veggies, the healthier they are, so make a colorful lunch salad with dark leafy lettuces, spinach, cucumbers, carrots, cherry tomatoes, and pack a side of a low-fat, low-calorie dressing.

Do your kids love pre-assembled lunchable-type lunches? Make your own healthier version with whole wheat crackers, lean meats and low-fat cheeses cut down to size and in fun shapes. Do they like to dip their foods? Veggies and fruits can be dipped into low-fat yogurt or veggie dip. Do they like bite-sized foods? Cut up everything and pack them into separate compartments or put them in small snack-sized sandwich bags. Love a variety of fruits? Cut them up and mix to make a yummy fruit salad. Like to grill or cook-out? Make “campfire” foil packets with their favorite lean meat and veggies, grill until done and pack for lunch. Make it fun and they will be excited to eat their lunch and won’t be tempted to trade!

6 Healthy Makeovers for Summer Snacks

The school year ends, and the parties, barbecues, vacations, carnivals and festivals begin — not to mention a kitchen that’s open 24/7. “It’s harder to get kids to eat healthy snacks in summer because of all the high-calorie temptations,” says Portland-based pediatrician Stephen Ames, M.D. It gets a lot easier when you’ve got healthy substitutions for their favorite treats. Your child won’t even miss the sugar.

Old Summer Snack: Ice Cream

New Summer Snack: Frozen Coconut Bar

Try “ice cream” made from coconut milk. “Coconut milk has germ-fighting and heart-protective properties,” explains certified health counselor Beth Aldrich, “and it may actually stimulate metabolism.” Another healthy frozen treat is mashed frozen bananas with your choice of toppings: Try crushed peanuts (they’re packed with protein and healthy fats) and dark chocolate chips (they contain antioxidants).

Old Summer Snack: Slushies

New Summer Snack: Watermelon Ice Pops

They’re easy to make and loaded with antioxidants and nutrients, says Aldrich. Puree watermelon chunks in a blender till smooth; pour into ice pop molds and freeze. (Add plain low-fat yogurt for a hit of extra calcium if you like.) Also try pureed strawberries, oranges and grapefruit with mint.

Old Summer Snack: Kettle Corn

New Summer Snack: Seasoned Popcorn

High in fiber and low in calories, air-popped popcorn can make a fun, filling snack –without the heavy sugar. Dress it up with a drizzle of fat-free chocolate syrup; a mix of cinnamon and stevia (a natural plant extract that has no calories); or combine with a handful of peanuts and toss with a blend of melted coconut oil and stevia (or agave) nectar for caramel-corn flavor.

Old Summer Snack: Hot Dog

New Summer Snack: Nitrate-free Turkey Dogs

You won’t have to worry about chemicals or bad fats with a nitrate-free turkey dog. Plus, the protein will keep kids satisfied for hours. Wrap the turkey dogs in all-natural, whole-wheat crescent rolls and top with mustard for a hearty, savory snack. Or try Tofurky Franks, made with tofu, for a meat-free ballpark taste.

Old Summer Snack: Packaged Potato Chips

New Summer Snack: Homemade Veggie Chips

Peel fresh carrots, parsnips, beets and sweet potatoes and cut into 1/8-inch slices. Place in a single layer on a cookie sheet; spray with vegetable oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 375 F. Kids can’t resist the colorful crunch — no dip needed!

Old Summer Snack: Lemonade or Cola

New Summer Snack: Fruit-infused Water

Slice fresh fruit — lemon, berries, watermelon or even pineapple — and let it float in a water dispenser or pitcher, suggests Aldrich. Sweeten to taste with Stevia; studies show that it may even prevent tooth decay by fighting the bacteria that cause it. Let kids choose the fruit and name the drink; they’ll think they came up with the idea themselves!

How to Make Fast Food Healthier for Kids

Research shows that kids consume an average of 55 percent more calories when they eat out than when they eat at home. While you should limit fast food to an occasional treat, it’s not a nutritional disaster if you make healthy choices:

Child-size it.

Keep your kids’ portions under control by ordering the child-sized meals that were meant for them — and try one yourself. Just this one move will cut half the calories and fat from your meal. Or share one order of fries with two or three people. This way, you still get to enjoy a little fast food without a lot of calories. Still hungry? Order a side salad with low-cal dressing.

Balance it out.

Cut calories and increase nutrition by making some smart substitutions. Chowing down on a cheeseburger? Forget the fries and order a baked potato or salad instead. Can’t give up the fries? Order a grilled chicken salad instead of a burger.

Skip the extras.

Save major calories by saying no to toppings like cheese, bacon, mayo and special sauces on burgers; pepperoni, sausage and extra cheese on pizza; and bacon bits, tortilla chips, Chinese noodles and regular dressings on salads.

Water it down.

A large cola weighs in at 310 calories, all of which come from sugar. Regular and diet sodas also contain phosphorus, which can prevent kids’ bones from absorbing calcium. The best bet for the whole family: water.

Make Easter Happy and Healthy for Special Needs Kids

Easter is almost here, and like Halloween and Valentine’s Day the holiday celebrations Easter egg sachetinvolve lots and lots of candy. Many special needs children, along with many typical children, are severely affected by the synthetic dyes, preservatives, sweeteners and other artificial ingredients in treats. Simply reading labels and choosing all-natural products before filling eggs and baskets may just let your family have a more enjoyable holiday, and the habit of reading labels can improve the quality of life for you and your special needs child.

The non-profit Feingold Association has tons of information on medical studies that prove the link between these additives and increased hyperactivity, inability to focus and other symptoms. The site also offers a program and diet to eliminate these ingredients. Conditions that have improved on the Feingold diet include ADD, ADHD, OCD, ODD, MBD, TS and many more. Adopting the Faingold diet, or your own modified version of avoiding these ingredients, may not even mean a major overhaul of your family’s eating. According to the Feingold Association website, “Cheetos Natural White Cheddar Flavored Puffs are acceptable, but the orange colored Cheetos (with artificial coloring) are not. Duncan Hines makes a chocolate cake mix with artificial flavor – and another version without.”

So many caregivers of special needs children are searching for that magic pill, which may just be in the form of a shopping cart.

There are many stores that offer a wide selection of all-natural candy and treats, as well as items that are gluten-free, sugar-free and organic:

  • Whole Foods – Find your local Whole Foods here. (Whole Foods has partnered with Streit’s to offer all-natural Hannukah foods, fyi)
  • Trader Joe’s – Find your local location of Trader Joe’s here.
  • Many all-natural items are also available online, such as these All-Natural Jelly Belly jelly beans, which are also gluten-free, dairy free and kosher.

Know of a great store or product? Email me or share it with us all as a comment!

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