Today, Chanda Guerin is here to share tips to encourage healthy eating for kids—getting them to step away from the Cheetos in favor of whole foods. Chanda’s a health and nutrition education masters of science candidate who enjoys yoga, hiking and farmers’ markets. Snack time instigated her interest and thesis project in the differences in snack food choices made by parents based on socio-economic status. A food blogger and child nutrition enthusiast, Chanda’s recipes, rants about current diet trends, and lusty thoughts of Cheetos and Pepsi can be found at LoveandAPinchofSalt.com.
Mamas have the best intentions of feeding their little ones the healthiest, organic foods out there. Many skim healthy eating blogs, read the latest research and stay up on trending eating plans. As soon as teeth start cutting gums, there’s a marketplace of convenient snacks waiting to fill their hungry bellies and give you the illusion of saving time and sanity. The organic label and bright font screaming “natural flavors” try to reassure you that you’re giving them the best snack possible.
Despite our fears of childhood obesity and diabetes and rumors of behavioral problems and compromised immune systems all related to nutrition, when kids are asking for the Cheetos, the chips are on sale and already packaged for lunch, it’s hard to say no. But you have to say no. In just a few years, that little person is going to head off to the hot social scene of the School Cafeteria. The tabletops lined with food package advertising, artificial colors and flavors meant to drive your kids’ taste buds and brain-food responses wild. Your kids are comparing notes, and despite all best efforts on your part to keep foods like Cheetos out of their tiny hands, they know that bright orange bag anywhere. You can’t stop Chester the Cheetah from popping up at the lunch table, but you can create healthy relationships with food, introduce them to a diversity of naturally colored foods, and involve them in food selection and preparation processes.
Kick the refined sugars and flours, artificial colors and flavors and even words—like cheese with a “z”—and put whole foods in those little bodies. The whole food piece of this is the most important. Choose orange carrots, clementine Cuties and bell peppers over orange “cheezy” fingers. Foods in their natural state don’t require modified spellings. There’s no cartoon celebrity with cool-guy sunglasses in the outer aisles of the grocery store or at the farmers’ market. There’s no wrapper or packaging aside from the produce sticker, but there are foods that pack a nutrient-punch for the growing, developing little one.
Oh, but your Natural Cheeze Crunchies are organic, huh? Eating organic foods reduces exposure to pesticide and fertilizer chemicals and may increase the naturally occurring nutrients available in whole foods. But an organic label doesn’t mean it’s the healthiest snack. Those fancy cheezy snacks still have the same cheese-flavored dust machine-coated on them as the conventional name brand snack. The organic wheat and sugar have the same nutritional profile of wheat and sugar in Cheetos. Fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, offer nutrients for growing bodies and brains, fill their bellies when hunger strikes, and create opportunities for building lifelong eating habits and making the best choices on their own at the lunch table. Here are a few tips to encourage healthy eating in your own kids!
4 Tips to Encourage Healthy Eating for Kids
1. Keep it new. Introduce new whole foods daily. Exposure to new, bright fresh foods will expand their taste and interest.
2. Include the kids. Take kids to the farmers’ market for seasonal and local whole foods. Friendly farmers are happy to give samples and share their excitement for food.
3. Eat meals at home and pack snacks. At home you have full control of every ingredient: how it was grown and where it came from. You know what’s going into your kid’s body, and you can identify potential food allergies and what shows up in that evening’s diaper.
4. Stock the favorites. Keep staple foods on hand. If your toddler loves carrots, keep them peeled and cut to snack-size so you can whip ‘em out any time.
Do you keep your kids away from the cheeze puffs, too? —Chanda