Over the last three decades, obesity rates among children have almost tripled. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health report that 30% of American children are either overweight or obese. But these numbers aren’t reported just to scare parents. These statistics are perfect motivators for parents to help get their kids on track for a lifetime of nutritional health. In the last decade, there has been a strong push for education about healthy eating and support for parents looking for tips, advice, and assistance on how to ensure their children are eating a nutritional diet. Everyone from non-profit organizations, to community groups, government representatives, and more are getting involved in the effort to get America, and the rest of the world, eating right and living healthier lives.
The Healthy Eating Plan
Every child will have their own unique nutritional needs based on their age, gender, size, activity level, allergies, and preferences. A nutritional diet does more than just help a child grow vertically. Nutrients, vitamins, protein, and more are all necessary for healthy brain development and more. Fortunately, there is a wide range of healthy foods that children and adults both enjoy eating. A child’s diet should consist of:
At least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day
Healthy protein options such as lean meats, nuts, eggs, beans, and legumes
Whole grain cereal and breads
Water and milk
Total daily calorie intake will also vary based on child. Here are estimated daily calorie intakes from the American Heart Association:
*Graph from the American Heart Association
Some foods are recommended to only be served to children on occasion, such as three times per week. These foods include:
- Fast food
- Fried foods
- Sugary drinks such as soda or fruit juices
- Sweets such as candy
- High fat content foods such as ice cream or buttery sauces
This doesn’t mean kids have to forgo all tasty treats. A great thing parents can teach their children is the difference between snacks which taste great and are also good for them, and snacks that might taste good but have little nutritional value. For example:
- Instead of potato chips and creamy dressing offer baked corn chips with salsa and a small amount of guacamole
- Instead of a store-bought cookie, make homemade cookies filled with fibrous oats and raisins
- Instead of candy, offer dried or fresh fruits
- Instead of fast food, make favorites such as French fries, burgers, and pizza at home where parents can control the higher-fat content ingredients
- Instead of ice cream, offer yogurts in a variety of fun flavors with mix-ins such as fresh fruit or granola
Why Eat Healthy?
Helping kids eat right and maintain a healthy weight is about much more than them fitting into their favorite pair of jeans. Diet is a key part of a child’s growth and development. Starting as a fetus in the womb, what a child consumes will affect physical, developmental, and emotional growth. Obese children are at a greater risk of type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, and more. Additionally, obesity and a poor diet can affect how a child feels about themselves and psychological problems such as risks for eating disorders and depression are a concern for overweight children.
However, parents have the power to help their children eat right by serving healthy foods and leading by example and eating a highly nutritional diet themselves. All it takes is swapping a few unhealthy food choices with something nutritional every day to produce long-term results. Some great benefits a child gets from eating healthy include:
- Healthy brain development
- Improved concentration
- More energy
- Less risk for certain diseases in adulthood
- Less risk of obesity in adulthood
Above and Beyond
Nutritional health doesn’t just start and stop with the plate a parent sets in front of their child. Parents can involve their children in cooking, grocery shopping, ordering off restaurant menus, and more to help them learn how to make healthy choices. Kids who help make family eating decisions will know which foods have the most nutritional value. This knowledge will help them make better diet choices throughout their lives.
Also, exercise should never be forgotten. No matter how healthy a person eats, it is all for naught if they don’t get some exercise. Not only will kids benefit from getting outside and running through the playground, but their parents who join them will too. Families who work together to eat right and exercise will see success.
Let’s Move – First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative, Let’s Move, is dedicated towards teaching the current young generation about healthy eating and exercise.
Nourish Interactivity – A collection of printable coloring pages and games for kids to help them learn everything about nutrition including the food groups, vocabulary, food labels, and more.
Weight Control Information Network – Tips, advice, and information for parents who want to help their children keep a healthy diet.
Obesity Society – Statistics and reports on childhood obesity, including important information on which children are most likely to become obese.
Cooking with Kids – The United States Department of Agriculture offers this collection of recipes which kids and their parents can cook and bake together.
Super Kids Nutrition – Expert advice on how to help kids get the proper nourishment they need for development and growth.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons