By: Cynthia Skelly, M.D.
It’s the question millions of parents are asked nearly every night at the dinner table. If most children had their way, breakfast would consist of cocoa puffs and doughnuts, lunch would be French fries and candy bars and perhaps some ice cream and pizza for dinner.
While this type of “gourmet” fare may keep some kids satisfied, it isn’t the most nutritious menu of choice. As difficult as it might seem, children need to learn to enjoy, or at least appreciate, healthy foods. Taking the path of least resistance when it comes to youngsters’ nutritional habits is not just a bad idea; it can cause serious health problems down the road. On the bright side, better nutrition can result in happier, healthier kids.
Children, like adults, need to follow the basic Food Guide pyramid for healthy eating.
- 6-11 servings daily grains such as bread and cereal (one slice of bread, 1 oz. dry cereal, or ½ c cooked cereal or pasta)
- 2-4 servings of fruit (1 med. Apple, banana or orange; ½ c chopped or canned; ¾ c juice)
- 3-5 servings of vegetables (1 c raw veggies; ½ c chopped or canned; ¾ c juice)
- 2-3 servings of milk, dairy or soy, yogurt and cheese (1 c milk or yogurt or 1 ½ – 2 oz. of cheese)
- 2-3 servings of meat, poultry, eggs, nuts and beans (2-3 oz. of cooked, lean meat, poultry or fish; ½ c of cooked dry beans; 1 egg; or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter as once ounce of lean meat)
Eating right in childhood can pave the way for preventing chronic diseases later in life, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
The key to helping your family enjoy the right foods is to make them tasty and interesting. For starters, include children in the entire meal planning process, from grocery shopping to the final product. Mix healthy items such as spinach with more “fun” foods like pasta; or strawberries with vanilla yogurt. Show children nutritional labels as part of a learning process. If they can read why it’s good for them, they will likely become more interested in nutrition as a whole.
Healthy Snack Ideas for Kids
Keep these nutritious and tasty snacks on hand to keep your kids from munching on junk food:
- Fruit and Cheese Kabobs: Alternate apples, grapes and cheese or lean protein cubes on a wooden skewer to create a delicious and fun serving of fruit and calcium
- No Sugar-Added Applesauce: Keep small containers of applesauce in the fridge for a quick treat
- Raisins: Kids love those little boxes and they’re great for snacks on the go
- Dunking Veggies: Cut up carrots, celery, broccoli and cauliflower and provide low-fat salad dressing, salsa or low-fat yogurt dip for dunking
- PB and Bagel: Spread half a whole grain bagel with low-sugar peanut butter, top with bananas and raisings for a filling after school snack
- Real Fruit Pops: Put washed fruit in the blender and fill Popsicle molds to refrigerate overnight. Mix with low-fat yogurt for a creamier taste.