As parents, we all want our kids to grow up safe, happy, and healthy. Therefore, one of the most important things you can do to help your children is to instill healthy eating habits early in their lives.
Children need a balanced diet with food from all three food groups – vegetables and fruit, whole grain products, and protein foods. Eating a variety of foods keeps our meals interesting and flavorful. It’s also a key to a healthy diet because each food has a unique mix of nutrients – both macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, here are some tips on the best formula to fuel your child’s growth and development:
- Vegetables: The more veggies – and the greater the variety – the better. Serve a variety of fresh, canned, frozen or dried vegetables and aim to switch up the type of veggie, including dark green, red and orange, beans and peas, starchy and others, each week. Rinse the canned vegetables before you serve.
- Fruits: Eat your way around the rainbow! That means, eat plenty of fruits of all colors, whether fresh, frozen or dried.
- Whole Grains: Go for whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, quinoa, or brown or wild rice, or foods made with minimally processed whole grains. Limit refined grains such as white bread, pasta and rice.
- Healthy Protein: Choose beans and peas, nuts, seeds, and other plant-based healthy protein options, as well as fish, eggs, and poultry. Limit consumption of red meat (beef, pork, lamb) and avoid processed meats (bacon, deli meats, hot dogs, and sausages).
- Dairy: Encourage your child to eat and drink fat-free or low-fat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese or fortified soy beverages.
- Healthy Oils: It’s important to remember that fat is a necessary part of our diet, and what matters most is the type of fat we eat. We should regularly choose foods with healthy unsaturated fats (such as fish, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils from plants like extra virgin olive oil, canola, corn, sunflower, and peanut oil in cooking, on salads and veggies).
- Water: Stay hydrated! Water should be the drink of choice with every meal and snack, as well as when we are active. Limit your child’s consumption of juice-which can have as much sugar as soda-to one small glass per day, and avoid sugary drinks like sodas, fruit drinks, and sports drinks.
- Stay Active: Incorporate physical activity into your child’s day. Get your kids involved in community or school sports, go spend the day in the park and trade inactive “sit-time” for “fit-time.” Children and adolescents should aim for at least one hour of physical activity per day.
Get your children involved in planning meals, going grocery shopping, and preparing food, and be sure to check out our DASH Nutrition page for more easy-to-follow tips on healthy living!