Kids need healthy meals that support ideal growth all through the year. But what makes up a balanced, nutritious meal? Follow the dynamic duo formula below to choose “healthy food adventures” for your family’s upcoming meals! Combine at least two sources of fiber and a healthy protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner to create satisfying, balanced meals. This formula provides long-lasting fuel and necessary nutrients for brain, bone and muscle growth. Ideal meals also help curb unhealthy snacking and keep kids focused at school and during extracurricular activities.
*These serving sizes meet the needs for most children trying to grow in a healthy way. If you have concerns about your child’s growth, consult with a member of your child’s health care team.
**What counts as a non-starchy vegetable? Most of them, including artichokes, asparagus, baby corn (not corn on the cob or corn kernels), beets, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, greens, mushrooms, okra, onions, pea pods, peppers, radishes, scallions, spinach, summer squash, tomatoes, turnips, water chestnuts and zucchini.
What can take your family’s healthy adventure on a detour?
- Fearing fruits and vegetables! INSTEAD: Design ideal meals that make at least half the plate non-starchy vegetables and fruits. They are loaded with beneficial components like fiber, vitamins and minerals.
- Picking high-protein items that contain a lot of fat and/or added sugar, like pulled pork mixed with sugary barbecue sauce, fried fish, or fried chicken served with regular ranch sauce. INSTEAD: Find flavorful lean protein preparations that limit unhealthy additions and pick lower-calorie condiments like mustard, vinegar, light mayo or yogurt ranch.
- Choosing high-fiber items that have a lot of sugar or fat added, like sugary oatmeal packets or sweet potato fries. INSTEAD: Pick choices without these additions and be thoughtful about portion sizes. If you like a big serving of rice, make it brown rice and mix in non-starchy vegetables like onions, broccoli, carrots and/or shredded cabbage. For packaged items, read labels carefully to find your best options.
Navigate toward healthy options by using labels
To find a high-fiber item, make sure the Nutrition Facts label lists at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving. (Dietary fiber will be listed under the section “Total Carbohydrates.”) Check the ingredients list to make sure a high-fiber, less processed ingredient like “whole grain oats” or “quinoa” is the first or second item listed. Ingredients are listed from highest by weight to lowest by weight, so having high-fiber ingredients at the top of the list is ideal.
To pick a lower-sugar item, make sure the Nutrition Facts label shows no more than 5 grams of added sugar per serving. (Sugars will be listed under the section “Total Carbohydrates.”) Check the ingredients list to make sure ingredients like sugar, fructose, glucose, syrup, honey, agave and fruit juice concentrate are near the bottom of the list (or not even listed!).
To find items that aren’t full of unhealthy fat, look at the Nutrition Facts label and make sure there are zero grams of trans fat and under 3 grams of saturated fat per serving. The ingredients list should not contain anything “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated.”
Learn more about reading the Nutrition Facts label.
Sonya Islam, Healthy Lifestyles Center dietitian
Our Healthy Lifestyles Center aims to stem the rising tide of childhood obesity by promoting healthy weight management, eating, exercise and lifestyle habits that can last a lifetime.