September is recognized as National Childhood Obesity Awareness month and while many of us see obesity plaguing adults, one in five children are obese and face many health problems as a result. Childhood is the time where kids should run, jump and play, laughing with joy and bouncing with endless energy (much to some parents dismay), right? So how do we educate ourselves to reduce these rates, ensure our own children don’t become a statistic and spread the word to others?
Below I have listed a few tips to help you instill healthy eating habits to your little ones and yes it starts as soon as they are old enough to eat!
1. Be a healthy role model:
From the moment your children are born you are their number one idol. Whether you know it or not, they watch your every move and actually listen to what you say, even if they pretend not to hear you! Aim for family meals and eat your veggies along with other balanced foods and flavors in front of them. If you can’t make it home for meals then enjoy healthy snacks when you are together, provide the same snacks to them and embrace the flavors you love, they’ll follow!
2. Don’t worry, your child won’t starve:
If your children don’t eat much at a meal or go through a “picky” phase, do not panic. Try to look at their food intake over the course of a week, not a day. You will likely notice that they will get what they need over time. Fear often causes parents to offer up less healthy items and to omit veggies all together. Don’t fall into that trap. Keep offering different foods, children will eat when they are hungry.
3. Add flavor through spices, not sugar:
It’s nothing new that kids love sweet flavors, but adding flavor through natural spices first will teach them to enjoy different tastes while relying less on sweetness for satisfaction. Fresh herbs and spices like rosemary, thyme, cinnamon and ginger bring out the natural sweetness in fruits and veggies, keeping it simple will do the trick!
4. Real food tastes better:
It’s true, packaged foods might be more convenient but real food tastes better, provides more nutrition, keeps you full longer and of course helps to fight, not create disease. Even if you are on the go you can grab fresh fruit, slice up some vegetables or pick snack foods with a limited ingredient list. Companies like Fresh Bellies do it for you, offering fresh, seasonal and organic purees that stay in your fridge or freezer until you need to grab and go! You can also bake with them to boost nutrients in kid friendly foods.
5. Eat the rainbow:
Nutrition, flavor, texture, and nutrients come in all different shapes, sizes and colors. Mix it up, keep it bright and let your kids pick the color of the day! Pretty food is fun to eat and colors signify a healthy meal. That brown plate of potatoes, chicken nuggets and rice doesn’t hold a candle to red peppers, sweet potatoes, green peas and berries. If you plate it, they will eat it…. eventually!
Amy Shapiro MS, RD, CDN is the founder of Real Nutrition NYC a private practice in Manhattan where she works with clients from individuals to corporations teaching them how to eat what they love while feeling their best! She is also the resident dietitian for Fresh Bellies. Amy resides in New York City with her husband and three children, and maintains an active lifestyle. When she’s not with a client, she enjoys trying new restaurants, exercising, visiting farmer’s markets, testing recipes, traveling, indulging in wine and chocolate, chasing her children, and enjoying what life has to offer – nutritiously!