We’re bombarded with advertising messages that want to influence us to eat candy, soda, and fast food. We all feel the effects of these images and messages, but kids, who tend to be more open to the power of suggestion, are even more impacted. As parents, how can we counter these messages and guide our children toward a healthy lifestyle? Teaching and modeling good nutrition are among the most important things we can do for our kids. They’ll carry the lessons we convey to them their entire lives, growing strong and healthy, and avoiding illnesses in the future.
But there are lots of other influences that can cause kids to make poor eating choices. With that in mind, here are some recommendations about talking with your children about nutrition in a way that they can understand, encouraging them to make good decisions when it comes to nutrition.
We all need to eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and foods that contain proteins, as well as dairy products that are low in fat, and it’s important to include these groups in our daily eating. One really easy way to help kids understand the different types of foods is by sharing the USDA’s “MyPlate” concept with them.
“MyPlate” is a plate divided into four sections, with each representing a food group (fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins), with a circle on the side that represents dairy products. The MyPlate concept helps kids and adults alike understand the features of a healthy, balanced diet, offering guidance about the different food groups and quantities of each that we should consume. Half of the plate contains fruits and vegetables, and that should be reflected in our daily eating habits.
If this seems like a concept that’s hard to share with your kids, don’t worry. The USDA’s website has lots of information and useful resources to help you share these important ideas with your kids.
It’s important to emphasize the short- and long-term consequences of healthy eating. Eating well helps us grow healthy and gives us energy to play, work, and exercise, as well as helping to prevent illnesses. Children of all ages can understand that, in order to feel good, healthy, and full of energy, they have to eat well. Making good decisions about food choices helps us feel better today and tomorrow, and can help us feel good far into the future, too.
A healthy, balanced diet contains a variety of foods. Fruits and vegetables of different colors not only make a plate beautiful and appealing, but also signal that we’re ingesting different vitamins and minerals. Offer your kids foods they’ve never tried, and treat the experience like an adventure! Including avocado, for example, can be given to them with the challenge to describe the fruit using all of your child’s senses.
Take your family with you when you go food shopping, and talk with them about the different foods they see on display in the supermarket. As you choose different fruits, vegetables, and other foods, talk about why you’re selecting them. If it’s possible, take your kids to a farm or farmer’s market, where they can meet and talk directly with farmers and growers. Knowing, for example, where avocados come from won’t just give them an understanding of how food is grown, but will also instill appreciation for the land, geography, and culture of Mexico.
Some foods contain more calories and are less nutritious than others, but that doesn’t mean they’re “bad”. Rather, it just means that they shouldn’t be part of our daily diet. Fried foods, sweets, and sodas should be consumed in moderation, or only on special occasions.
Often, what we do exerts more influence than what we say . If we talk about nutrition but, as mothers and fathers, we don’t eat well, our children will ignore our little chats and will follow our example. It’s important, then, to give them good examples AND talk about why we make the decisions we do. Talking about why we eat what we do will help them understand key nutritional concepts and set a good example about the importance of healthy eating habits.