Healthy Eating for Kids and Teens (page 3)

By — Helpguide
Updated on Nov 11, 2014

Persuading children to eat more fruits and vegetables

You may have been told not to play with your food, but making mealtime playful can mean healthier eating for you and your kids! Here are some creative ways to build more fruits and vegetables into your child's daily diet:

  • Top a bowl of whole grain cereal with a smiley face: banana slices for eyes, raisins for nose, peach or apple slice for mouth.
  • Create a food collage. You can use broccoli florets for trees, carrots and celery for flowers, cauliflower for clouds, and a yellow squash for a sun. When you're all finished, you can eat your masterpiece!
  • Make frozen fruit kabobs for kids using pineapple chunks, bananas, grapes and berries.
  • Go food shopping with your children. Take them to the grocery store or Farmers' Market to let them see all the different sizes and colors that fruits and vegetables offer. Let them pick out a new fruit and vegetable to try.
  • Try fruit smoothies for a quick healthy breakfast, or afternoon snack.
  • Keep lots of fresh fruits and veggies washed, available, and in a place where children know to look when they want a snack. Easy fruits and vegetables to grab and eat on the run include apples, pears, bananas, grapes, figs, carrot and celery sticks, zucchini slices. Add yogurt or a tub of nut butter or tahini for extra protein.

How can I get my picky eater to enjoy a wider variety of foods?

Picky eaters are going through a normal developmental stage, exerting control over their environment along with concern about trusting the unfamiliar. This often goes along with the “separate compartmented plate” stage, where children don’t like one type of food to touch or mingle with another. Just as research has shown that it takes a number of repeated impressions before advertising convinces an adult consumer to buy, it takes the average child 8-10 presentations of a new food before he or she willingly accepts it.

If your child is otherwise healthy, eating only a few select foods for a little while will not have any adverse effect. So, rather than insist your child eat a food that is being rejected (the worst step you could take), try some of the following:

  • Offer a new food only when your child is hungry and rested.
  • Present only one new food at a time.
  • Make it fun (see above); a game, a play-filled experience. Cut the food into unusual shapes.
  • Serve new foods with favorite foods to increase acceptance.
  • Eat the new food yourself; children love to imitate.
  • Limit beverages. Picky eaters often fill up on liquids instead.
  • Limit snacks to two per day.
  • Encourage your child to help with food preparation.

What can I do when my children clamor for junk food?

If you've been following the guidance and suggestions given so far, your kids are probably well on the way to lifelong healthy eating habits. It pays to stay vigilant and involved, however. Parent activism can make the difference in school nutrition. Some school policies now ban soft drinks and junk food altogether; others have installed vending machines that offer healthy alternatives. In addition to the Ten Steps to Bringing Healthy Foods into Schools, try some of the substitutions below:

Substitutes for Fast Food
Instead of: Try:

French fries

Baked potato

Ice cream

Low-fat frozen yogurt

Fried chicken

Baked or grilled chicken

Doughnuts and pastries

Bagels or English muffins

Chocolate chip cookies

Graham crackers, fig bars, vanilla wafers

Potato chips

Pretzels, plain popcorn

What are good fast food and restaurant suggestions for children?

Whether you're dining out with your children or grandchildren, it's important to know how to make good fast food and restaurant choices. Children love to eat out, but the growing numbers of overweight and obese children mean that adults need to take more responsibility for helping children make good choices, no matter where they're eating.

Nearly one-third of children eat fast food every day, and those children who do eat fast food tend to consume more calories on a daily basis. These increased calories lead to increased pounds and add to the child's risk of becoming overweight. No child wants to be fat, and sharing these facts alone may be a powerful motivator for a child to choose healthier foods.

Granted, it might still be challenging to persuade your youngster to order a salad instead of a cheeseburger, but you can steer them towards healthier options. Below are some important tips to remember about fast food/restaurant dining for kids:

  • Soda is highly caloric and not nutritious – kids should have water or milk instead.
  • Avoid chicken nuggets – sorry imposters of real chicken.
  • Skip the fries (see previous section). Consider taking along a bag of mini carrots, grapes or other fruits and vegetables to have instead. This will add vitamins and fiber to the meal.
  • Order the kid's meal with some substitutions. Children often love the kid's meal more for the fun box and toys than for the food. Ask to substitute healthier choices for the soda and the fries if possible. Many restaurants are making it easier to substitute, and all usually have water and milk available as beverage options. In sit-down restaurants, help them opt for chicken and vegetables or spaghetti with tomato sauce rather than a big plate of macaroni and cheese.
  • Remember that you are modeling food habits, so when you are eating out with the kids, follow healthy eating guides yourself!

How can I help my child maintain proper weight?

First, ask yourself what you mean by “proper weight.” Sometimes parents who are concerned about their child’s appearance, popularity, and future opportunities may over-react to what is actually normal for that particular child. Many adults, particularly women who have constantly struggled with dieting and weight problems, say their problems began when their mothers put them on a diet at age 9-12. Before deciding that your child has a weight problem, consider:

  • Is your child within the “normal” range on charts for his/her age and height?
  • Is your child’s body type simply a refection of his/her genetic heritage for a stockier build?
  • Is your daughter approaching puberty, when normal developmental changes include the addition of body fat?
  • Did you have your own childhood or adolescent issues with weight that may be causing you to be overly concerned about your child’s weight?

After careful consideration and consultation with your pediatrician and/or a nutritionist, if you have done everything you can with healthy food and your child is tending toward a weight problem, the key is to add exercise – which means turning off the TV!

Several studies have found a strong link between obesity and time spent watching TV and playing computer games. This isn't surprising:

  • We burn fewer calories watching TV than we do sitting still.
  • TV commercials urge viewers to eat. The average American child sees 10,000 TV commercials a year. Approx 9,500 of these are for one of four types of food: fast foods, soft drinks, sugar-coated cereals and candy.
  • Too much TV is bound to prevent kids from developing the skills and love of sports that make physical activity so enjoyable.
  • Playing computer games may be worse than simply watching TV. Not only can they become addictive, they can be played all day and all night.

To encourage physical activity:

  • Be active yourself! Share your activity with your kids.
  • Play with them! Play football, go cycling, go skating, go swimming.
  • Be more active as a family. Take family walks and hikes, etc.
  • Help your kids find activities they enjoy by showing them different possibilities

A good trick to encourage them to exercise is to ask them to help you to get fit. Ask them to go for a walk with you, or a swim, or a cycle.

Anne Collins, weight loss expert

Collins offers 15 creative, practical suggestions for parents to help kids slim down which summarize much of the information above:

  • Provide a range of healthy snacks that kids can grab for themselves: a variety of whole wheat cereals, different breads, fresh fruit, fat-free yogurt, etc.
  • If they love junk food, cook your own at home rather than allowing them take-outs. Use lean steak to make burgers, serve on a whole wheat bun with lots of salad. Make your own oven chips by cutting potatoes into thick chips, spray with light cooking spray and cook in a hot oven.
  • If they eat at school, find out what choices are available and talk to them about the best choices to make.
  • Fast foods need not be fattening: buy a pizza base and put your own low-fat toppings.
  • Mix some fat-free milk with whole milk and keep it in a jug.
  • Make your own popcorn using half the normal amount of oil.
  • If you know your child loves a particular dish that is high in fat, don't cut it out completely. Include it in his/her diet every couple of weeks as a treat.
  • Make a healthy "fizzy" drink by mixing one-third fruit juice with two-thirds fizzy water.
  • Get a set of ice-pop molds, fill them with fruit juice and freeze for a low calorie snack.
  • Encourage them to use the blender to make their own shakes. Use any soft fruit, banana, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, blend with fat-free milk, rice milk or almond milk.
  • Make your own trail mix: dried fruits, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds or pecans.
  • If you see your children eating something fattening, don't make a fuss and don't expect them to be perfect. Remember the most important thing is to teach them long-term, good eating habits.
  • Don't compare your child with anyone else.
  • Constantly talking about weight/dieting, your own or your child's, can be damaging. There are many cases of eating disorders in teenage girls who have grown up in a household where the mother is an obsessive dieter.
  • Ideally, introduce good eating habits to your child as early as possible, but remember it is never too late to start. Kids adapt to new ideas very quickly.
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