By Dr. Christine Wood, pediatrician and author of How to Get Kids to Eat Great and Love It
What foods are ideal for picky eaters? And how do you get your kids to eat those good foods? These are common issues parents face. With concerns over the rising rates of childhood obesity, awareness that families and communities must work together to change this trend and promote healthy eating and active living has started to receive more priority. So what can families do to promote healthy bodies and active living? Here are seven tips to get started.
1. Commit to more family meals. Frequent family meals have been found to improve diet quality in children and teens with an increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, grains and calcium-rich foods. In addition, teens with more frequent family meals had a lower risk of smoking, drinking, and doing drugs; disordered eating; depression; being overweight; and had better grades.
2. Create a “mindful family meal.” It’s not just about sitting together and eating—families also need to “connect” at mealtime. Rules should include no television, phones and texting. Keep kids involved in pleasant conversation. Teach children to eat slower and enjoy their foods. Ask children to at least try a bite of all foods—call it a “one-bite rule” or a “thank-you bite” to thank those that grew or prepared the food.
3. Avoid discussing dieting, weight teasing and body ideals. Despite our concerns about childhood obesity, most experts agree that discussion about body image; dieting and weight teasing are not effective measures when it comes to children and teens. Instead, focus on healthy eating behaviors for the entire family.
4. Limit screen time. Screen time with television, computers, gaming and smartphones creates significant sedentary time for children. Work to set limits for recreational screen time. Recommendations include no recreational screen time for children under age 2 and less than one to two hours a day for older children. Avoid snacking in front of the television. Not having a television or computer access in the bedroom will also help to cut down screen time.
5. Encourage kids to be physically active. Make sure they get at least an hour a day of good sweaty physical activity. Schedule family outings—a walk, bike ride, or any other favorite family sport will do.
6. Think about a multivitamin with calcium, and vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Kids today are overfed and undernourished and may not receive even the basic nutrients in their diet. There is increasing concern about vitamin D deficiency with kids, and many children are not getting enough calcium in their diets. Omega-3 fats are an important fat and support brain development and heart health. Eating oily fish like salmon or sardines can add omega-3s, calcium and vitamin D to your diet. Dairy, broccoli and a variety of legumes are also great sources of calcium. If you’re concerned that your child may not be getting enough of these three nutrients, talk to your doctor and see if there are ways to boost them in your child’s diet or if a supplement might be needed.
7. Remember that you are the parent. Your children will reflect the food choices you make. We don’t have to forbid the treats and candy, but we have to teach our children moderation. This teaching of a healthy lifestyle in food and activity is something they will carry with them forever. Yes, they may rebel at times, but be strong in your example. You are the parent!
About Dr. Christine Wood, M.D. FAAP
Dr. Wood is a practicing pediatrician and author of How to Get Kids to Eat Great & Love It. She is an expert in nutritional medicine for children and speaks to healthy lifestyle parents worldwide. She has been featured in magazines, television interviews and radio programs – actively addressing childhood obesity with schools, parents and health professionals. She is also a Scientific Advisory Council Member for USANA Health Sciences.