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Simple Isn’t Always Easy: Making Healthy Choices for Your Children

You love your kids. There’s no question about that. You want to do the best you can to ensure their safety and wellbeing. One of the most important ways to do this is by teaching them from an early age to choose and enjoy healthy foods. Our food preferences are established when we are very young and learning to eat the right foods not only instills good habits but also helps to prevent major health conditions later on in life such as heart disease and diabetes.

Unfortunately, and you parents know, making healthy choices isn’t as simple as it sounds - especially when you’re at the grocery store trying to decide what to cook for dinner. The first step is education. Below are practical tips to help you provide the right kinds of food for your children based on recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Each meal should consist of foods from the five major food groups: vegetables, fruits, grains (bread, cereal, pasta), protein (lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, peanut butter) and dairy products (milk, yogurt, and cheese). You can visit choosemyplate.gov to find out how much of each food group is recommended by the USDA.

Other important components of a healthy meal include:

  • Fiber: Found in foods like fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, cereals, brown rice, beans, seeds, and nuts, fiber is beneficial due to its ability to ease constipation.
  • Fats: Fats are an essential source of energy; however, a high-fat diet – particularly saturated fats – is a problem. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperatures and are found in fatty meats (such as beef, pork, and ham) and many dairy products (whole milk, cheese, and ice cream). Preferred fats are called unsaturated fats; these are usually liquid at room tem­perature and include vegetable oils like corn, sunflower, soybean, and olive.

Practical Tips to Eating Healthy

  • Avoid buying high-calorie foods such as chips, cookies, and candy bars. Your child may not ask for these if they are not in sight.
  • Limit or eliminate how much fruit juice you give your child and make sure it is 100% juice, not juice “drinks.”
  • Keep fresh fruits and vegetables washed, cut up, and in plain sight in the refrigerator. Provide them as snacks or alongside each meal. For example, put fruit on cereal, add a piece of fruit or small salad to your child’s lunch, use vegetables and dip for an after-school snack, or add a vegetable or two to the family’s dinner.
  • Include at least one leafy green or yellow vegetable for vitamin A such as spinach, broccoli, winter squash, greens, or carrots each day.
  • Include at least one vitamin C rich fruit or vegetable, such as oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, melon, tomato, and broccoli each day.
  • Serve salads more often. Get prewashed, bagged salad at the grocery store. Teach your child what an appropriate amount of salad dressing is and how it can be ordered on the side at restaurants.
  • Avoid high-fat and high-calorie food toppings including butter, mar­garine, sour cream, and gravy. Instead, use herbed cottage cheese, grated parmesan cheese, or low-fat yogurt.
  • Try out vegetarian recipes for spaghetti, lasagna, chili, or other foods using vegetables instead of meat. Also, try serving lean meats, such as chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef cuts (lean hamburger, top loin, top round, eye of round), and lean pork cuts (tenderloin, loin, chops, ham). Cut away visible fat and remove the skin from poultry.
  • Choose cooking techniques such as baking, broiling, poaching, grilling, or steaming when preparing meat, fish, and poultry. Select vegetable oils (canola, corn, olive, sun­flower, and soybean oils) when cooking or use nonstick vegetable sprays to cut down on added fat. Do not use butter or margarine when preparing or serv­ing vegetables.
  • Serve vegetable-based and broth-based soups. Choose low-fat milk when making cream soups.
  • Be a role model—eat more fruits and vegetables yourself.
  • Eat as a family whenever possible. Research shows that kids eat more vegetables and fruits and less fried foods and sugary drinks when they eat with the entire family.

For meal ideas to get your family on track to a healthier diet, visit healthyliving.org.