Parents have the most influence on the eating behaviors of their children in their early years by instilling certain food and beverage choices.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) reports that the obesity rate in the United States has nearly tripled in the past 30 years to 17 percent. Obese children are prone to health problems like cardiovascular disease, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and poor self-esteem in comparison to their healthy counterparts. In a study published in Journal of Pediatrics, 70 percent of the participants who were between the ages of five to 17 and who were overweight, had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The higher levels of lipids and blood pressure put them at risk for becoming obese adults due to their high body mass index (BMI).
The rise in childhood obesity has moved parents to introduce healthy nutrition to their children so they can establish good eating habits to carry on into adulthood. As children grow, they begin to acknowledge the emphasis placed on body image by different sectors of society that can influence their dietary and active lifestyle. A "fat-shaming" culture has taken shape with children who pick on others that are not their own size. Obesity is one of the primary reasons why kids get bullied at school due to the exposure of weight biases seen through media outlets.
It's time to do some spring cleaning in your kitchen and learn about the five tips that make healthy eating fun for you and your children.
1. Control consumption of sugar and salt.
Feeding babies, toddlers, and young children foods that contain high levels of sugar, salt, and fat in the early stages may lead to serious health and weight issues. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers analyzed the effects of sodium intake on levels of blood pressure. 245 newborn infants were assigned a normal-sodium diet while 231 had a low-sodium diet during their first six months of life. It was found that sodium intake is related to blood pressure with the low-sodium group at a systolic pressure of 2.1 mm Hg lower than the normal-sodium group.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that those between the ages of two and up consume 1,500 mg of normal-sodium. However, to moderate levels of blood pressure with a low-sodium diet, you can opt for your child to have less than the initial amount.
Exposure to foods that contain sugar or salt in the under-one-year-of-age crowd should not occur because the children will develop preferences for these foods as they get older. The biggest sodium-ridden foods are processed, packaged, fast food, or some outside dinging. Junk food favorites like potato chips and pretzels are loaded with high levels of sodium that can be damaging to a child's health if consumed on a regular basis.
Monitor your child's sweet tooth by cutting back on candy and cookies that are usually used for afternoon snacking. Twelve grams of sugar a day is the recommended amount by the AHA. Be wary of replacing sweet tooth culprits with soup and vegetables,like peas and corn, as they contain large amounts of sugar. A helpful tip is to freeze 100 percent fruit juice in an ice-cube tray with a handle (preferably spoons) to consume a homemade popsicle.
2. Plant colorful and leafy produce in their diet.
Vitamins, minerals, and fiber are just some of the health-friendly benefits that fruits can offer to increase your child's longevity. Recommended fruit intake is one cup a day for the one- to three-year-old crowd, and recommended vegetable intake is three-fourths of a cup a day for tots, says the AHA. People who consume a moderate amount of produce have a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as, stroke, diabetes, and different types of cancer. The Harvard School of Public Health conducted a 14-year study to see if fruit and vegetable intake was associated with the risk of major chronic disease. Fruit and vegetable intake was said to be inversely associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease but not with cancer overall.
Encourage kids to play with their food. Yes, food play can aid your child's perception of the health benefits of produce. Fruits like banana, peaches, or apples (that can easily be cut) can be used to decorate a bowl of oatmeal or some hearty cereal.
3. Introduce new foods.
You must be your child's role model to teach your child the benefits of nutrition and healthy eating. For infants, offer new foods every few days to notice their initial reaction or if they experience some health complications (allergies). When he or she is one-year-old, your child would have already been exposed to a varied diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins. Toddlers will start to eat on their own so it is important for the parent to have a set meal time to monitor and introduce new foods at the same time.
"The most important tip I can give to help kids to taste new foods is to make sure they are hungry at mealtime," said Sarah Krieger, a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA), to PBS.org. "Halt snacking at least 1 to 2 hours beforehand and even longer for older children." The term "picky eaters" should not deter a parent from teaching their child about health and nutrition.
4. Healthy snacking.
Easy-to-grab snacks like soft drinks, chips, and cookies end up in a child's lunchbox because they are easily accessible with no preparation necessary. The combination of these snacks is dangerous because of the calories and high levels of salt, sugars, and fats they contain. Take some time aside either the night before or before your kids leave to school and pack cut-up fruits (apples, cantaloupes, watermelons) and include some vegetables (carrots, celery, cucumbers) as perfect nibblers. Smoothies can be a fun way to ensure your child gets their recommended daily serving of fruits and vegetables. Stock up on these healthy treats in your kitchen to make them easily accessible to kids.
The Center For Science In The Public Interest (CSPI) reports that "serving healthy snacks to children is important to providing good nutrition, supporting lifelong healthy eating habits, and helping to prevent costly and potentially-disabling diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity."
5. Cooking and eating together.
Children often love accompanying their parents during grocery shopping, picking what goes in their lunch box, and helping with dinner. Use this eager participation and curiosity to teach them about the nutritious delights in your kitchen. Allow them to prepare easy dishes by having them adorn food with condiments, fruits, and veggies to make them feel like a chef. Preparing a meal will evoke kids to sit down at a family dinner because they feel a sense of pride in the meal they created.
Susan Moores, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA), said, "It's true that kids will be kids -- they'll snack on chips at a school party or enjoy ice cream after a soccer game. But what is most important is how they eat most of the time." The more involved kids become in their cooking, the more likely they will make health-conscious choices.
The control, availability, and accessibility of foods is in the hands of the parent. Obesity prevention begins in the home and it starts with you.