Eating right and getting more active go hand in hand when trying to raise healthy children.
My last article gave some suggestions on how to get kids moving more, but diet is really important when trying to create or maintain a healthier lifestyle. It can be really challenging to deal with picky eaters or try to encourage older children to change unhealthy eating habits.
As parents, we ultimately have control over what is stored in our pantry or refrigerator. As a first step, take stock of what you keep in your kitchen. Hungry children will reach for whatever is readily available, so limit their options to healthy ones. Limit processed foods, and opt for fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean meats and whole grains.
Educate them on why it is important for them to eat healthy and encourage them to make healthy choices by including them in the meal planning. Take them to the grocery store with you and shop the perimeter of the store where you will find all the fresh produce, lean meats and fish. Allow them to choose items they like or things they have never tasted before. Selecting items like fennel, persimmons or starfruit can be fun. Have them feel it, smell it, imagine what it might taste like and then have taste tests at home. You may be surprised at how willing they are to taste what they chose.
Hunger usually strikes when they get home from school, so make sure healthy snacks are readily available. Keep fresh fruit where it is visible. Have ready-made healthy salads in the fridge. Store raw vegetables that are washed, cut and ready to eat.
Vegetables make a great healthy snack. Pair them with hummus or dip and kids are more likely to eat them. Most dip mixes call for sour cream but you can substitute it with low-fat Greek yogurt and kids won’t even know the difference.
If you must, you can always “hide” vegetables in foods they will eat, like pasta sauces, meatloaf or smoothies. Everyone loves smoothies and it is such an easy treat to pack with nutrition. Just about anything goes when it comes to making smoothies. You can add kale, spinach, grated carrots, berries or many kinds of fruit. Avocados add a surprisingly smooth texture. Good fats and nutrition come with it but it is virtually tasteless when paired with low-fat yogurt or almond milk and fresh fruits. Sweeten smoothies with natural sweeteners such as raw honey, maple syrup, Stevia or coconut sugar.
Last, but certainly not least, modeling healthy habits will help encourage children to live a healthier lifestyle and take better care of their bodies and what they put into them.
Angela Fulgieri is the Wellness Experience Director at the Plant City YMCA. Contact her at email@example.com.
WHOLE GRAIN PASTA SALAD
One pound of cooked whole grain pasta
8 oz. cubed part skim mozzarella cheese (or crumbled feta)
1 container fresh whole grape tomatoes
Cubed grilled chicken breasts
(optional) 1 can chick peas
Olive oil (to taste)
Red wine vinegar (to taste)
Season with garlic powder, oregano, salt and pepper