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Encouraging Healthy Eating for Kids: Back to Basics

March is National Nutrition Month!

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics hosts the national campaign each year and this year’s theme is Eat Right, Bite by Bite. The theme focuses on the ‘back to basics’ for healthy eating, with special attention to kids! We all know that nutrition is super important during meal time for our little humans, but it doesn’t need to be stressful or difficult for parents. Below are some easy tips on how to promote healthy eating habits that do not include begging, demanding or bribing your kids to eat their veggies!

  1. Activities: Nutrition shouldn’t just be exclusive to the kitchen or dining table. Make it fun by incorporating the topic as part of their daily fun! Some activity ideas can include:
    1. Naming different foods (like fruits and vegetables) and asking toddlers to identify the colors, or ask older kiddos to name the food group
    2. Nutrition coloring books: The Center for Disease Control website has a bunch of free activity tools for kids, click here
    3. Songs and games around nutrition: The Choose My Plate website is also a great resource for toddler songs, games, and coloring print outs, click here
    4. Nutrition reading books
  2. Have your kids be part of the meal planning and prep whenever they can. Kids are much more inclined to eating the foods in front of them when they are engaged. Ask them for their ideas and opinions when deciding what to make, granted they may not have the most nutritious ideas so give some guidance too. Ask ‘this or that’ questions like “Should we have carrots or sweet potato for dinner tonight?” versus “Do you want veggies tonight?
  3. Have them cook with you! Keeping safety first and foremost, have your little ones be part of the cooking process, whether it be simply washing the vegetables or having them mix the ingredients together. Do what you’re comfortable with- cooking with kids should not be stressful for you or them! You can even incorporate dressing up with a chef’s jacket, apron or hat! Click here for more ideas on including your kids in the kitchen!
  4. Be a positive example. Remember that you are their biggest role model! Be mindful of how you talk or act around food. You may not like a certain food or dish, but try not to talk down about it in front of your kids- they see, hear, and absorb everything. Instead of saying something like “Yuck, I hate broccoli” try “I will pass on broccoli tonight, thank you. But I will have some peas instead!” 
  5. Repeated Exposure. You may know (or be) an adult who has always hated a certain food and that’s okay. But its still too early for kids to make that decision; some kids take years to finally accept trying the foods and typically realize they like it! Continue to offer and encourage all types of foods to them and let them make their own decision on whether they want to eat it or not. Don’t force or bribe them either as that promotes unhealthy eating habits. And obviously we don’t want tons of food waste so continue to offer a small portion of the food and pack the rest for leftovers. 

Remember parents: healthy eating should be fun and easy for everyone, even the most pickiest kiddos. Don’t stress too much if they aren’t eating enough of a certain food/food group right now (they can see you stress!), just don’t give up on promoting healthy options and modeling healthy eating behaviors in positive ways. If you want to read more on healthy eating for kids and even adults, check out these credible free website resources below:
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
The Center for Disease Control for Healthy People
The USDA Choose My Plate 

Have a happy and healthy March!!
-Chrissy, a Registered Dietitian Mama

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