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Dietitians Dish: Good nutrition for kids takes a little work but pays off

By By Elizabeth Sommerfeld
April 1, 2014 at midnight
Updated March 31, 2014 at 11:01 p.m.


As parents, we want the best for our kids. So, why don't we feed them the best? Being in the nutrition profession makes me hyperaware of what my kids eat and what other kids eat.

Many kids I see as outpatients have a similar pattern: They skip breakfast; don't eat vegetables, very limited fruits, limited milk and whole grains; eat fast food frequently and don't spend much time being physically active.

So what is my advice to these kids and parents? Well, unfortunately, they need to make a 180-degree turn to the other side. These changes don't happen overnight, but over time, they can change their taste buds to adjust to these new and different flavors while actually learning to enjoy them. So here are a few of my golden rules:

Eat breakfast. This is the fuel the body and brain need to make it through the day. While I don't expect kids or parents to make a full-blown breakfast buffet, I do expect that they can put something in their mouth, regardless of how much they overslept or aren't hungry. Breakfast can be as simple as a piece of fruit and a cheese stick or whole-grain frozen waffles toasted with peanut butter or nut-free butter spread on top. Find things the kids like and will enjoy to encourage breakfast.

Eat your fruits and vegetables. There is a large variety of fruits and vegetables out there, each with its own benefit. So eat a rainbow of colors for maximum benefit. If you don't like red delicious apples, try one of the other thousands of varieties out there. Don't rule out a whole food group just because you did not like it the first time. Also, when it comes to vegetables, they can be cooked a variety of different ways: steamed, broiled, grilled or mixed in dishes. So, find a way that works for your family. Allow kids to help pick out, prepare or even find a new recipe to try to encourage their choices. Encourage the one-bite method, each time a new fruit or vegetable is prepared, everyone has to take at least one bite, every time. Research has shown it takes multiple exposures to foods before they are readily accepted, so keep firm to at least trying one bite of any food.

Eat at home. Yes, this takes more time than driving through a drive-thru, but it will help your family's overall health and the pocketbook tremendously. Try to plan fast cooking meals such as ground meat, chicken tenders or thin cuts of pork or fish for nights you might be crunched for time. Don't forget the old, faithful slow cooker. I believe Lindsay had some good tips regarding this in a previous article.

Don't drink your calories, unless it's milk. Many calories are wasted on sodas, sweet tea, sports drinks, etc. This is the easiest way to cut your calories drastically. One can of soda can have 150 calories, and many people I know drink more than one can per day. So, choose calorie-free drinks such as water.

Be active. Kids need 60 minutes of physical activity per day, and adults need at least 30 minutes. So be active together when you can. Set a good example and work in some family activity before or after a meal. Riding bikes, walking the dogs or just playing at the park are great ways to increase activity.

I hope you find some of these tips helpful and can incorporate them into your life. Remember, we did not get bad eating habits overnight, so expect a gradual change in your family's health. But little changes add up to a huge benefit.

Elizabeth Sommerfeld is a registered dietitian nutritionist and bariatric coordinator at DeTar Healthcare System. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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