Parents want to feed their kids the right foods so that they grow up healthy and strong. But it’s not always easy to create a balanced diet. With busy schedules, parents need to be mindful of what their kids are eating.
“Eating right doesn’t have to be complicated,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Robin Foroutan, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Here are some ways parents can better plan a balanced diet for their kids.
Prioritize your plate
The U.S. Department of Agriculture created a nutrition guide called MyPlate. It replaces the old food pyramid and shows us what should be on our own — yes — plate.
Fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy are the five food groups considered to be the building blocks of a healthy diet. The guide illustrates four of these groups divided on a plate. Half your plate should consist of fruits and vegetables. Focus on whole fruits and varying vegetable options. The other half should be whole grains and protein (meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and vegetarian dishes). The guide also includes dairy. The recommended consumption includes low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt.
It’s also been noted that adding oils helps create a healthy diet, according to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Avocados, olives, nuts, seeds and seafood contain naturally present oils and are a major source of essential fatty acids and vitamin E.
“Think about what you want your plate to look like and ask if it's incorporating all the major food groups,” says Foroutan.
Mary-Catherine Perry, a clinical dietitian at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, says, “Too much of one food often leads to an overabundance of specific nutrients, while avoidance of a particular food group limits consumption of importance nutrients.”
Perry says that parents should be focusing on color. “The more color on the plate the better,” she says. “Color indicates specific nutrients or vitamins found in various fruits and vegetables. The deeper and darker the color of a fruit or vegetable, means more nutrients. Having a colorful plate is a great way to ensure that kids are getting a wide range of vitamins and minerals.”
See the glass half full
Human bodies are around 60 percent water so it makes sense that it’s an important part of a healthy diet. It is recommended that kids should drink it throughout the day. If your kid doesn’t like the taste of water, add a little bit of lemon or lime for flavor. And remember, water is also consumed through fruits and vegetables.
Other suggested beverages are fat-free and low-fat milk and 100 percent juice. These drink options contribute beneficial nutrients, says the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
And a simple switch to healthier alternatives could make a big difference in kids' habits. Swap out soda for water or flavored sparkling water; whole milk for low-fat milk; and ice cream for homemade smoothies.
“And keep in mind that having tempting foods and beverages available at home can make it challenging for anyone to make healthy choices, especially kids,” says Perry.
Be a role model
“Parents raise healthy eaters, bite by bite, meal by meal, as children transition from infants to teens and then to young adults,” says registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Isabel Maples. “Raising a competent eater takes years.”
Maples suggests sitting down as a family to share meals, “because positive attitudes about food grow from that. When there’s joy in eating, good nutrition can follow.”
And remember that kids can still enjoy dessert. But, Perry says, “it is important to be mindful about how frequently treats, such as cookies, candy and chips, are consumed."
Sweet treats and processed snack foods should be limited to no more than two times per week. “This will help make room for more nutritious foods and will also make these treats feel even more special when enjoyed less frequently,” she says.
“As children grow, involve them more and more in the responsibility and decision- making of meals and snacks,” Maples says. “Initiate teachable moments in the grocery store, enlist your child’s help in planning meals, or show your teen how to prepare after-school snacks. Involving kids from the ground up gives them a sense of accomplishment and allows them to gradually develop key life skills about healthful food and good nutrition.”
Try these smart steps
U.S Food & Drug nutrition expert Shirley Blakely, a registered dietitian, says parents should pay attention to portion sizes and read the Nutrition Facts label on packages to help make healthier food choices.
Here is how use the Nutrition Facts label:
Check out serving size. One package may contain more than one serving. Use serving size to figure out the total number of calories and nutrients per package. Pre-measure food if you only want to eat one serving (and the package contains more than that amount).
Consider the calories. Food labels are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, but calorie needs are different for children and adults. (Go to ChooseMyPlate.gov to find out the recommended daily intake for age groups). Note: 400 or more calories per serving for a single food is high, and 100 is moderate.
Choose nutrients wisely. Eat foods that are high in potassium, fiber, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium, and foods that are lower in trans and saturated fats, cholesterol, sodium, and sugars.