Expert Tips for Healthy Eating
By Alicia Stevens
As the Snickers commercial humorously portrays, “You’re just not yourself when you’re hungry.” Raise your hand if you can relate to how your choices, actions and attitudes are impacted by an empty or poorly-fed stomach.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports research showing children have better brain function, including better memory, when they receive adequate hydration and nutrition. Many parents may remember infants melting down while waiting for a bottle — poor nutrition has a negative impact on mood, as well!
Proper nutrition includes high amounts of different fruits and vegetables, along with lean meats and whole grains. Limiting beverages with sugar is also important.
To illustrate these goals, in 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture developed the “My Plate” plan. At www.myplate.gov parents can find resources to determine targets for your child based on age, gender and activity level. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends each child receive one item high in Vitamin A daily, such as spinach, broccoli, greens, or carrots, and one leafy green or yellow vegetable high in Vitamin C such as oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, melon or tomato.
Teaching healthy eating to our children starts with us. Dr. Melinda Valliant, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition at the University of Mississippi, advises: “parents should be good role models.”
A 2007 research study in the Journal of Law and Medical Ethics found that children’s eating behaviors are most influenced by their caregivers.
“Parents [should] establish boundaries on where children eat so they are not distracted by the TV or allowed to eat in their rooms,” Dr. Valliant said.
Vegetables can be more challenging than fruits to get into some children’s diet. For this, Dr. Barbara Ricks, MD, a pediatrician at Delta Medical Group Regional Health Clinic in Greenville, suggests parents just keep trying, and “repeatedly place the vegetable in front of their children.”
Beth Howard, an intern in Delta State University’s Dietetics program, reports it may take up to 16 times before children will even try a new food.
“Have them taste it at least once, but do not force them to finish it if they do not like it,” Howard said.
She suggests it’s not a good idea to use sweets to encourage kids to eat their vegetables; this may only teach them not to listen to the body’s hunger cues. She suggests instead that parents use stickers or other non-food items as rewards for desired behaviors. Research does not show benefits from forcing children to eat a food.
“Introducing vegetables cooked in different ways may help,” Dr. Valliant said. “Some kids might like raw carrots compared to cooked ones, for example.”
Some families have found fresh, versus frozen or canned, might also make a difference. Keep fruits and veggies in plain sight, using as snacks or adding to cereal.
Howard advises allowing children to help with meal prep; it’s a chance for them to understand how ingredients work together and provides family bonding time.
Dr. Valliant recommends looking at ingredient lists on food packaging. It’s best when whole grains are listed first and sugars listed third or later for cereals.
Teaching kids good habits now will have lifelong impacts. Keep working with them, parents, and you’ll eventually see the fruits of your labor!
Alicia Stevens, a resident of Pearl River County, is a freelance writer, wife and mother of two who enjoys travelling with her family and friends.