August is Kids Eat Right Month, which is great timing as students and families are just getting back into their school routines. Summer often introduces a shock to any healthy routines we’ve established, whether it’s ordering pizza to save time, throwing a bag of chips in the shopping cart for those afternoon cravings, or running out for ice cream on a hot summer evening, we eventually find ourselves choosing “easy” (or fun) over healthy. Unfortunately, these daily habits quickly become rituals, which in turn can become our new normal.
Fortunately, the fall can be a great time to reset to our diets – especially those of our kids. Before getting started, it is important to recognize there are conditions or individual situations that require a very specific diet. If this is the case for you or someone in your family, we suggest seeking out professional advice for customized nutrition strategies. With that said, in general, we all require the same type of nutrients to encourage proper body function.
These critical building blocks include vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein, and fat (the good kind). Carbohydrates and fats provide energy, while vitamins and minerals support growth and development– which is particularly critical during our developmental years. The amount of nutrients needed varies by age, gender, and activity level.
A nutrient-dense diet consists of protein, fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy. Proteins build and replace tissues in the body, which can come from a variety of sources– including eggs, legumes, beef, poultry, or seafood.
Fruits and vegetables can spruce up meals and have the highest potential of converting your child into a habitual healthy eater. Both fruits and vegetables contain much-needed nutrients that can set the groundwork for long-term health, including vitamins (A through Z), antioxidants, carbohydrates, potassium, and iron. The list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, fruits and vegetables can also be the most difficult to get kids to eat regularly. But if you’re committed to teaching healthy eating– and are willing to get a bit creative– you’ll be well on your way to a healthier lifestyle for the whole family.
Fruits and vegetables can be included in snacks as well as meals if portioned correctly – but it may take several tries to find one or two that your child likes. Fruit does contain sugar, but there’s a big difference between natural sugar and added sugar. Did you know the average American consumes a LOT of added sugar– about 60 pounds a year in fact? Go to MayoClinc.org to find specific recommendations on fruit and vegetable consumption.
Grains are a great source of fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and proteins. Oats are great components for breakfast and pasta, barley, and quinoa can jazz up any meal (who doesn’t love a great spaghetti?) But proceed with caution. Refined or processed grains (milled grains that have had bran and germ removed) should be kept to a minimum as they lack nutritious value. Stick to whole grains, if possible. Not sure how much grain should be included in your child’s diet? Go to ChooseMyPlate.gov.
Last but not least, there’s dairy. Dairy is the juggernaut of calcium, which is important for teeth and bone strength as well as growth. If calcium is not consumed daily, the body will start to strip calcium from the bones and deposit it in other parts of the body as needed. The end result is weak, brittle bones, which can lead to osteoporosis (or worse). Since we reach our bone density peak between the ages of 20-25, it is crucial to start the consumption much earlier. Dairy also contains Vitamin B12, iodine, and protein. Yogurt, low-fat milk, and cheese are a few great sources of calcium. If you or your child is sensitive to dairy, you’ll need to find other sources of calcium– like certain juices, almond milk or rice milk.
This all makes sense, but how do we make these changes stick? Here are a few tips:
1. Start with a plan. Remind yourself why you’re changing things and formulate a meal plan that can help eliminate last-minute (and poor) decisions about food.
2. Educate yourself. You don’t need to be a registered dietitian to eat well, but you do need to understand the basics. There are plenty of great books and blogs out there, just make sure you’re getting your information from a credible source.
3. Include the kids. Most kids tend to get more excited about things they can influence or contribute to. Involve them in deciding what they will be eating so that they’ll be pumped for what’s in their lunch boxes.
Let’s celebrate Kids Eat Right Month with a commitment to eating better. Hopefully, you (and your kids) will notice a difference in their energy levels and overall health, which will make it easier to stick with the new lifestyle.
And remember, a healthy diet is just one part of a comprehensive wellness plan that can keep you and your family feeling great and doing your best. If you could use some help getting set up on a comprehensive wellness plan, give us a call. We’ll set you up with an assessment and guide you through the process.