August is Kids Eat Right Month, which aligns perfectly with the back to school mentality. Kids Eat Right focuses on the importance of educating families, communities and policymakers about the importance of quality nutrition to promote optimal health for kids and families.
Nutrition is important for children because it is directly linked to growth and development, and habits developed at a young age can last through adulthood.
Here are some ways you can promote healthy habits among children.
Lead by example -- Kids model themselves after adults, so if they see you skipping meals or choosing low nutrient foods, they are more likely to do the same. Keep the pantry stocked with nutritious ingredients so you can always have things available.
Take time to eat together -- Try to carve time to eat together to show that nourishment is important. Family meals instill a sense of security and stability, and provide an opportunity to model nutritious food choices.
Get your kids involved -- From picking out ingredients at the grocery store to setting the table, kids can develop an interest in food through involvement. Younger children may be able to help mix simple ingredients, while older children can take on more responsibility. Involving kids in cooking and preparation is a great opportunity to develop healthy eating behaviors and increase healthy food consumption.
Keep healthy foods on hand -- When kids are hungry, they’ll reach for what’s available in the pantry. Try to keep nutritious foods on hand to fuel them. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, nut butters and low fat dairy products are both healthy and portable.
Build a better breakfast -- Research shows that eating a balanced breakfast can help improve behavior, as well as foster a healthy weight. A balanced breakfast should include protein, whole grains, and fruits or vegetables. To streamline breakfast in the morning, get organized the night before and keep it simple. An egg sandwich or wrap, or fruit smoothie can be great for those out-the-door breakfasts.
Teach your kids why nutrition is important -- Educating children about the functional benefits of certain foods can stick throughout childhood. Don’t you remember learning that carrots are good for your eyes, and spinach makes you strong? Try to keep the focus on why foods are good, rather than why some (i.e. sugar) are bad.
Promote the right beverages -- Water, milk and 100% fruit juice are the best options. Try to limit the soda, teas and added-sugar juices, which provide calories but no nutritional benefits.
Spent time outside with your kids -- Physical activity is crucial for bone and muscle development, endurance and weight management among kids and adolescents. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children and adolescents should have 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily. Encourage your child to participate in activities that are age appropriate, enjoyable and offer variety.
Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN, LDN is a Registered Dietitian in the Mooresville and Cornelius area. She does freelance projects, and sees clients in person and virtually. She also has a healthy living blog, Bucket List Tummy, where she shares healthy recipes and nutrition and fitness tips.