(and maybe even you if you’re still eating like a kid)
What does good nutrition look like for our kids and grandkids?
The patterns we establish as children serve as our foundation going forward in life. What we eat in our younger years shapes brain development, metabolism, and overall health.
Did you know, the top three sources of calories for 2-3 year olds in the US are milk, fruit juice, and pasta. Kinda sounds like a crappy foundation, right? The good news is, small changes add up to big differences and ensure a lifetime of healthy- and enjoyable eating. This is so important in the long run because, after all, nutrition affects all aspects of childhood growth, development, and health
In 1980, only 7% of kids in the US aged 6-11 were obese.
In 2010, it was 18%- that’s about 1 in 5 kids.
Fast forward to today, about 33% of kids in the US are classified as overweight or obese. This is a scary statistic.
Even more scary- 70% of teens that are overweight are already showing signs of cardiovascular disease. Too much adipose tissue (fat) also secretes hormones and chemical signals. In kids, this means things like asthma. Fat can also accumulate in the liver, and non-alcoholic (NAFLD) is the leading cause of liver disease in children across the world. They also have to worry about things like insulin sensitivity, type 2 diabetes, and have a higher long-term risk of chronic conditions. Some things affected we often don’t think about are gut health, brain and behavior (things like mood and behavior issues, ADHD, etc)
Normal growth and hormone development can also be disrupted, affecting how they develop during puberty and impact their future reproductive health. Once a body is overweight at a critical developmental period, it’s very hard to change- but no impossible. It does make it more difficult however. Health and physical activity habits established in early life will have effects for decades to come.
All of the physical health stuff aside, huge social and psychological issues can stem from being overweight as a child. It’s no fun to be the chubby kid on the playground, likely enduring teasing and social exclusion.
How can YOU help your child or grandchild now?
I’ll be the first to admit, the issues with childhood nutrition can seem overwhelming, especially if you’re a parent or grandparent trying to make healthier choices- maybe for the first time in your life for you and your family. Especially if you weren’t shown the way or maybe didn’t have the best example as a child yourself. Where do you begin?
Start with the BASICS!!!
First, avoid the processed foods that are marketed specifically to kids. (Lucky Charms, anyone?) Instead, choose whole, minimally processed foods, as close to their natural state as possible.
Incorporate fruits and veggies into your kids daily diets where ever you can. Have fun with it!
Teach your kids to be mindful when reading for a snack. Are they really hungry? Or just bored? Hungry? No problem! Try to keep whole foods and healthy snack ready to go. For example- I pick and wash grapes as soon as I bring them home and then portion them into snack bags so they’re easily accessible.
Take the lead by adopting your own healthy habits, so that your kids have a healthy role model for their own behavior. Lead by example!
What are the big “no-no’s” or some things you should avoid?
As a parent, we want our kids to be happy. Its easy to resort to things like offering them food as a reward when they’re upset; have strict rules about “good” and “bad foods; and to want to push them to finish dinner (turning them into life long members of the clean your plate club.) You may even bribe them with things like “if you finish your green beans you’ll get ice cream”.
Unfortunately, these tactics are only further enforcing bad food habits or relationships.
Try these habits instead!
Serve them a variety of unprocessed whole foods.
Serve appropriate portions.
Give them the illusion of choice and self-determination (e.g. “You can pick 1 vegetable you’d like to eat tonight”).
Let kids stop when they’re no longer hungry (instead of insisting that they clear their plate).
Avoid strict “eating rules” or references to children’s weight.
Don’t keep unhealthy choices in the house. Make healthy choices abundantly available. Don’t make this a big deal; just make poor choices simply and quietly… unavailable.
Involve kids in shopping, menu planning, and cooking.
Eat together as a family as often as possible; make meal time family time.
But what about picky kids?
Sure yeah I hear you, is what you’re thinking. But my kid won’t eat vegetables, no matter what! How will he get enough nutrients?
No problem. They can we tons of healthy amazing nutrients from foods like apricots, cantaloupe, mango, peaches, plums, beans, nuts, avocado, eggs, citrus fruits, and berries to name a few.
My summary and recommendations are as follows:
How much should my kids eat? They should eat until they are no longer hungry. Satisfied not stuffed.
What should my kids eat? A mix of mostly whole, minimally processed foods. However, don’t make any food “taboo”. Allow your kids to have a treat now and again so that the first time the see the candy bowl at grandma’s they don’t dive in head first.
What should my kid drink? Mostly water and natural fruit juices not made from concentrate. Getting your kid in the habit young of drinking water with a slice of lemon or orange in it is a super idea.
How can you ensure your child is having healthy bowel movements? (Gut health) Make sure they have adequate fluid, physical activity, and whole plan foods. Vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds…)
But the #1 thing you can do to help your kids?
Adopt healthy habits yourself!