How to Encourage Good Nutrition For Kids
February 14, 2020
When it comes to eating habits, each child is different. Some children eat well at meals and will try a lot of food. Some kids will only eat certain things or just seem to graze throughout the day rather than sit and eat a meal. Chances are, your child will go through stages where each of these things is true. As they go through these phases, keep the following things in mind to encourage good nutrition in kids.
Get Familiar with Nutrition Needs at Different Ages
All children have basic nutritional needs and some of the same common sense adults use in their diets can be applied to kids. However, good nutrition for kids can look different at different ages and stages. It can also look different from child to child if they have allergies, sensitivities, or health issues that require certain dietary considerations. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a good guide on what is important for each age group.
Check Nutrition Facts and Ingredients
Processed foods may seem like a convenient option for snacks and meals, but many of these foods have additives that can affect nutrition. Ingredients are added to preserve processed foods and make them last longer on the grocery store shelf (and in your pantry). Many artificial preservatives are loaded with sodium and salt is often added to frozen foods to help them maintain flavor through the freezing and cooking process. Read food labels carefully and cook at home using fresh and healthy ingredients whenever possible.
Make Snacks Count
Children love to snack, but some snacks can have a lot of sugar, salt, or fat. Help kids make good choices and make snack time an opportunity to increase the number of fruits and vegetables your child eats. Try to avoid packaged snacks and make healthy options as readily available as that bag of chips. Cut up fruits and vegetables every couple of days so kids can grab them when they’re hungry. Pre-portion them into small containers for lunches and on-the-go snacks. Keeping whole fruits like apples and bananas is also a good idea.
If you do need to go the packaged route, pay attention to the labels on food. Unsweetened dried fruit can be an option as well, but because it does not have the water content of fresh fruit, pay attention to portion sizes. Applesauce and other pureed fruits are available with no added sugar or preservatives. Veggie snacks may contain too much salt, so always pay attention to the nutrition facts.
Focus on Health, Not Weight & Appearance
Being at a healthy weight is important for your child’s overall health and what they eat contributes to that. However, how you communicate about nutrition for kids should not be focused on their weight or what their body looks like. You should focus on how eating certain foods will help them grow, get strong, and feel good. If your child is not a healthy weight, talk to your doctor about how to handle it and be careful about how you discuss it with the child.
As kids get older, they will see how much value society puts on being the “right” weight and looking a certain way. Social media, magazines, TV, and movies all enforce a very specific image of attractiveness that’s completely unrealistic for all but a select few. This can lead to body image issues that can result in disordered eating in some children. National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is February 23-29, so now is a good time to learn about how eating disorders may affect your child.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, eating disorders commonly start in girls 14 – 17, but boys and younger kids are not immune. Young female athletes and dancers are at an even higher risk because a certain body type is associated with those activities. People struggling with eating disorders have a preoccupation with what they eat, their activity level, their appearance of their bodies, and their weight. This is true of all different types of eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia, or a combination of the two that alternates between binging and purging and extremely restrictive eating. If you suspect your child may have a problem with disordered eating, talk to their doctor and consult this parent toolkit from the National Eating Disorder Association.
The team at Holly Springs Pediatrics knows how important proper nutrition is for your child’s health and wellbeing. We offer comprehensive care for children including routine visits and services for specific issues and conditions. If you have concerns about your child’s nutrition or eating habits, call us at (919) 249-4700 to make an appointment.