We know that good nutrition and a balanced diet help kids grow up to be happy and healthy.
According to Health Canada, there’s a relationship between healthy eating patterns during childhood and:
- Optimal health and growth
- Cognitive development
- Academic performance
- Chronic disease prevention
Eating wholesome meals is also about fostering family connectedness and establishing important rituals for you and your kids.
So how can we raise healthy eaters while managing our busy lives? We asked our early learning and child care experts for their tips.
1. Eat at home.
Cooking and eating at home not only allow you to establish an important family ritual, a 2014 study from John Hopkins’ School of Public Health suggests that home cooking is the key ingredient in a healthy diet. Stick to whole foods as much as possible. What do we mean by whole foods? Dr. Mark Hyman, family physician and medical editor for the Huffington Post asks three questions to determine whether something is a whole food:
- How many ingredients does the food have? There should really only be one. A whole food’s ingredient list is simply itself.
- Was the food grown in a plant or did it come from one? Real food is grown on a plant, not manufactured in one! The less processing and steps taken to transform the food the better.
- Can you picture what the food looked like in its natural state before you bought it? We can picture a chicken easily but chicken nuggets?
2. Eat your colours.
Vegetables contain special disease-fighting compounds—and each hue has its own unique set of phytonutrients. That’s why health experts recommend serving an array of different-coloured fruits and veggies. Take your kids grocery shopping and make a game out of picking produce in different hues, then talk about what you can make with it.
3. Walk your talk: model healthy eating.
As a parent, you’re the most important influence in your children’s lives. Your attitude towards food and healthy eating will certainly impact your kids’ attitudes.
Here are a few tips for modeling a healthy relationship with food:
- Eat the way you want your kids to eat - sit down at the table and try new foods together (but don’t force your children to try them.)
- Avoid talking about “good” and “bad” foods – it can set children up to have an unhealthy relationship with food.
- Don’t use food to manage stress.
- Encourage your kids to help prepare meals, set the table and help with clean up.
- Enjoy your food - talk about it, savour it - a positive attitude is contagious!
4. Ditch fruit drinks, juices, soda and sports drinks.
Sugary drinks provide little or no nutrition and take the place of healthier choices like water or whole fruits and vegetables. Fruit juice is healthier than soda, but it has plenty of sugar and calories, and filling up on it means kids may not be hungry for more nutritious meals. Stick to whole fruits and veggies rather than juice or add a splash of fresh-squeezed lemon, lime or orange to your water to give it a hint of flavour.
5. Let your kids participate!
Involving your kids in meal prep not only helps to build their self-esteem and identity within the family, it promotes learning and teaches them the importance of healthy eating. Culinary skills foster many different areas of cognition. From helping to read the recipe and measuring ingredients to problem-solving and learning about nutrition and culture, getting your kids involved in the kitchen is a great way to ensure they eat well now and into the future.
6. Introduce new foods, but remember: young taste buds are… young
Experts say kids need to be exposed to a new food between 10 and 15 times before they’ll accept it. But many parents give up long before that, thinking their child just doesn't like it. Don’t be afraid to continue introducing new foods, but don’t go overboard either – gradually expose them to new foods over time.
7. Encourage smart snacking.
Little stomachs only have so much room! If your kids are snacking too close to mealtime they won’t be hungry for a nutritious meal. Don’t let your kids snack within an hour of mealtimes and when they do snack, encourage fruit and veggie-centric choices like baby carrots with hummus or apple slices with almond butter.
This is the first post in a series on early child development for our Power of Play Campaign. Throughout September we’re sharing resources, advice, tips and activities to help you ensure the kids in your life are school-ready. This week is all about physical health and well-being. Sign up to receive information right to your inbox or follow along on the blog!