A Dietician Shares Her Recipe for Teaching Kids the Importance of Nutrition

Posted On Tuesday, 07 August 2018
A Dietician Shares Her Recipe for Teaching Kids the Importance of Nutrition

One would assume as a registered dietician my children naturally gravitate toward foods enriched in vitamins and nutrients. In my dreams, perhaps. The reality is it can still be a struggle at times to make meals that are balanced and as green that they should be.

As I tell patients at CHOC Children's, ensuring your family eats right, starts way before any meal hits the table. For me, it begins during my weekly trip to the supermarket. I know anything purchased then will directly impact the food choices my kids make for the next seven days. This is especially true for my younger ones who eat most of their meals at home or from packed lunches.

Admittedly, I can’t manage every morsel of food that goes in my children’s mouth. Nor should I. What I can do, however, is provide balanced meals and a kitchen stocked with healthy foods, so when they are older – or in that I call the “grab-n-go” stage – they’re incline to make better choice. Until then, here the 10 basic rule from which I operate my kitchen and advise my patients.

#1: Water

Water is go-to drink in my house, as unlike juice it contains no calories or sugar. I also find offering children ice water makes having a drink more appealing.

At CHOC Children’s, we recommend that children drink the number of eight-ounce cups of water that is equal to their age, (with a maximum of 64 ounces for children over the age of eight). In other words, a one-year-old would have one, eight-ounce glass of water, a day. A two-year-old would have two glasses, etc.

#2: Low-Fat Dairy: Milk, Cheese & Yogurt

Low-fat dairy products are a good source of calcium and protein. In addition, they are often fortified with Vitamin D. I make an effort to select low sugar options when offering milk or yogurt. As hard as I try, my children's taste for sugar sometimes wins out. Rather than risk losing the much needed calcium my kids require I eliminate sugars in other foods during the course of the day.

#3: Only Natural

My basic rule when it comes to food shopping is to pass on any item with high fructose corn syrup and stick with as many natural ingredients as possible. This is why reading the ingredient list on packaged foods is a must. If the ingredient list feels like a foreign language it's likely full of unnecessary preservatives and added colors. Keep in mind, of course, that some of the ingredients listed may be essential minerals and vitamins that have been added to the food. Familiarizing yourself with that terminology will make shopping easier to digest.

#4: Hard-Boiled Eggs

Eggs are an excellent source of protein. Most of the protein found in eggs is in the egg whites and, fortunately, most children prefer the egg white over the yolk. Another advantage with this natural food source is that hard boiled eggs are quick and easy to make which so ideal for parents with a busy schedule.

#5: Fruit & Vegetables

I make a practice of including fruits and vegetables with most meals. Fruit is usually more popular with my kids than vegetables, but I always offer both.

#6: Whole Grains & Fiber

Foods made from whole wheat flour are a much better source of fiber for your children and family. Avoid grains and white flours that are heavily processed. You won't always be successful but go with the whole wheat as often as possible and enjoy the small victories when they happen.

#7: Chicken

As a rule I lean towards organic labeling when I purchase chicken. Organic chicken can be costly so on the occasions when prices are just too high I resort to regular chicken. It’s still a good source of protein. Using a variety of recipes that contain chicken makes the meals I offer my kids more appealing. Beef and pork are not always fan favorites with kids because they find the meat too dry and hard to chew. Chicken is just easier for them to handle.

When you can, try to avoid processed foods like deli meats, hot dogs and sausages. They often contain nitrates and nitrites to give color and prolong shelf life. Offer these products sparingly or not at all.

#8: Veggie Straws and/or Veggie Chips

Yes. It’s true. Chips and straws are on the list and for good reason. Despite the negative press, they do fill a need: they’re high in sodium. However they don't have the nasty artificial colors and flavors associated with traditional chips. I like them because they make for an easy and tasty treat on long car rides and plane trips without leaving a huge trail of crumbs.

#9: A Well-Balanced School Lunch

When packing my child's school lunch I make sure it has a balanced offering of protein, fruit and vegetables. I do throw in a starch or carbohydrate for good measure, but it's never meant to be the star of the meal.

#10: Home-Cooked Meals

On weeknights we always try to eat at home, saving dining out for weekends and special occasions. Although it requires a fair amount of meal planning on my part, it ensures I’m making the best food choices for my family. It also saves us money. If you’re stumped for ideas, I suggest “get healthy meal prep tips for busy parents”.

As my list suggests meal planning isn't always ideal. There are times when junk food gets higher billing than it should. My shopping cart isn't always filled with organically raised meats or trendy health foods. But the choices I do make are based on the belief that, as a parent, I have the responsibility to provide as much healthy food as possible to my children and family. If a cookie or two gets thrown into the mix, then that's okay. The important thing is the bigger picture and by that I am referring to what’s on the rest of the plate.

That’s what really counts!

Stephanie Chang, MS, RD, CNSC

Stephanie Chang, MS, RD, CNSC, is a clinical dietitian a CHOC Children's.

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