Every day provides a new opportunity to promote a better, healthier you! Consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods is important for the health of your body and brain – and that of your kids, too! Check out our tips below for boosting the nutrition in your kids’ diet.
What are five food swaps I can start right away?
- For breakfast, instead of choosing sweetened cereal, muffins or pastries high in added sugar, prepare steel-cut oatmeal with a serving of Greek yogurt and berries, or experiment with egg muffins which are convenient for on-the-go and may help keep them fuller longer.
- When possible, substitute refined grains (such as white bread, white rice or white pasta) with whole grains (such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, rye, millet and barley). While refined grains are often fortified with the vitamins and minerals lost in processing, whole grains contain more fiber. Try using half whole grains and half refined grains to make the switch easier, and pair it with your family’s favorite sauce or seasoning so it’s closer to what they’re used to eating.
- Make your own takeout at home. Instead of eating out for pizza or Chinese, build your own! Swap in low-fat cheese, a whole grain crust and lots of veggie toppings for your pizza, or some brown rice, low-sodium soy sauce, veggies and lean proteins for a stir-fry. Creating these meals at home gives you more control to cut back on added sodium, sugars and unhealthy fats.
- For snacks, switch out highly processed snack foods for more wholesome options. Instead offer a piece of fruit with nuts (almonds, walnuts), or create a build-your-own trail mix with whole grain cereal, nuts and dried, low-sugar fruit!
- Take your family’s favorite meal and turn up the nutrient content! Add chopped or pureed veggies to favorite casseroles or pasta sauces. You’ll get in more vitamins and minerals, and they likely won’t even notice a difference!
What if my child doesn’t like trying new foods? Or fruits and veggies?
- Continue serving new foods as part of meals and snacks! Exposure to a larger variety of food from an earlier age increases willingness to try new foods later. It may take 10 or more times for a new food to be accepted.1 Be patient with the process.
- Be a role model! Your child looks up to you and learns from you. Eat these healthier options with your child at meal and snack time.
- Involve your child in grocery shopping and preparing food at home. Having more buy-in from your child may promote greater interest in trying new foods.
- Make the experience fun! Plan trips to the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings and host cooking contests for the entire family.
- Make delicious smoothies containing lots of fruits and vegetables! Try blending one cup of spinach, one half of a frozen banana, ½ cup of frozen berries and some low-fat milk!
- Teach your child where food comes from. Plant fruits and vegetables in your outdoor garden, or create window plants of herbs, and have your child help take care of them and watch them grow!
- Hang a Colored Rainbow Chart on the refrigerator, and make eating fruit and vegetables fun for the entire family!
What if fruits and vegetables are too expensive?
- Save money by shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables that are in-season. This Virginia Fruit and Vegetable Chart can help you find what’s “in.”
- Look for deals at your local farmers market! Virginia’s Department of Agriculture lists locations and descriptions of farmers markets by regions.
- Low-cost grocery stores often sell produce at reduced prices. When shopping, choose whole fruits and vegetables, which are often more affordable than pre-sliced fruits and vegetables.
- Remember that frozen fruits and vegetables are an option, too! These items are picked and frozen right away, so their nutrient content remains at its peak. Just be sure to check the label for added ingredients.
- Make sure your child eats regular meals and snacks throughout the day. This starts with breakfast! Plan to wake up five minutes earlier in the mornings before school, or pack a grab-and-go breakfast the night before. Eating meals and snacks throughout the day can help to your child consume a variety of nutrients and maintain their energy levels.
- Practice eating mindfully. Encourage your kids to take their time when eating to enjoy their food. Have them tune in to their five senses when eating, focusing on the tastes, textures, sounds, appearance and smells of food.
- Pay attention to your child’s beverage choices. Sugar-sweetened beverages (like sodas, sweet tea and fruit juice) contribute to added sugars and weight gain.2 Additionally, too much caffeine (like in coffee, tea and sodas) can cause jitteriness, which may contribute to worsened anxiety and impact sleep.3
- Families who eat together stay together! Make it a priority to have family meals at the dinner table with limited distractions.
We wish your family a healthy and happy year ahead. If you’d like to learn more about what we’ve shared here, please feel free to ask us any questions in the space below.
Dr. Valentina Cimolai, child and adolescent psychiatrist, and Katelynn Perzynski, registered dietitian
1.Carruth BR, Ziegler PJ, Gordon A, Barr SI. Prevalence of picky eaters among infants and toddlers and their caregivers’ decisions about offering a new food. J Am Diet Assoc. 2004;104:S57-S64. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2003.10.024
2.Malik VS, Popkin BM, Bray GA, Despres J, Hu FB. Sugar sweetened beverages, obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk. Circulation. 2010;121(11):1356-1364. doi:10.1161/circulationaha.109.876185
3.National Sleep Foundation. Caffeine and Sleep. National Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/caffeine-and-sleep. N.D. Accessed January 5, 2020.