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Nutrition

Healthy Eating for Healthy Children

Healthy eating habits help children grow and stay healthy, and provide the energy they need physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. This episode will show you, as a parent, how you can help your children build healthy eating habits so they can make smart nutritional choices.

You may have grown up with the nutrition guidelines from the government called the Food Pyramid. Today, it has been revised and is now called My Plate. My Plate is a general guide that informs families about various nutrients they need, based on their age, gender, and activity level. For recommended quantities of grains, vegetables, fruits, protein, and dairy, as well as suggested foods in each of those groups, visit www.choosemyplate.gov. We are not able to go into detail on each food group requirement and give examples in this podcast; however, we recommend viewing choosemyplate.gov to educate yourself and your children as a supplement to this episode.

Keep in mind that children’s early eating experiences affect their future eating habits. You can set them up for success at an early age as you choose and help them choose the right food choices. 

Here are some basic food facts and tips to keep in mind when choosing what foods you and your children eat:

  • Carbohydrates, fat, and protein are the main types of nutrients that our bodies require and use on a daily basis. Carbohydrates provide energy, fat helps growth and provides energy, and protein helps growth and brain development.
  • Healthy oils are fats that provide essential nutrients. Some oils are used in cooking, such as canola or olive oil. Other foods are naturally high in oils, such as nuts, fish, and avocados.
  • Be cautious of foods labeled “reduced-fat,” as they may contain high amounts of sugar to improve the flavor.
  •  When your child eats a diet based on My Plate, he will get the vitamins needed to be healthy. However, your pediatrician may also recommend giving your child vitamins and supplements to meet additional nutrient needs.
  • Children should eat three full meals and two to three snacks every day. Starting with a healthy breakfast every morning helps children focus and stay fit. If your child attends school, find out what type of meals and snacks are given and how often they are given.
  • When a child becomes a toddler, her appetite often decreases. Try serving smaller amounts. If she wants more, offer a second serving, but do not ever force her to eat food.
  • If your child often refuses food, try offering a variety of healthy choices. For example, if your child refuses milk, try offering cheese or a fruit smoothie made with milk. Avoid bargaining and begging to get your child to eat.
  • When a child eats more calories than he uses up in physical energy, he can become overweight. Watching TV and snacking for several hours at a time on a regular basis can lead to obesity. If you feel your child is overweight or has unhealthy eating habits, talk to her doctor or a registered dietician for recommendations.
  • Healthy eating begins with healthy shopping. Make sure to buy foods and cooking ingredients that are healthy. Don’t keep supplies of snacks high in fat and sugar at home, and only buy what you need for special occasions.
  • For children younger than two years old, do not restrict fat or calories unless the doctor says. Keep in mind that the amount they eat will vary because their diets are changing.

When it comes to food preparation and cooking, here are some additional hints for a healthy diet:

  • Read nutrition labels to make healthy decisions. Percent Daily Values are based on calorie levels for adults. Foods intended for children have a Nutrition Facts Panel that is specific for children.
  • Serve lean meats, such as fish, lean beef cuts, skinless chicken, and turkey.

The American Heart Association suggests buying soft, trans fat-free spreads instead of regular butter or stick margarine. You can also use vegetable oils such as olive and canola oils.

  • Use fat-free cooking methods like baking, broiling, grilling, poaching, roasting, or steaming.
  • Serve small meals with small amounts of fat, cholesterol, salt, and sugar.
  • Be a good example by eating healthfully yourself, and allow children to help you prepare meals.

It’s also important to note that food allergies are common in many children. For children with special needs, their developmental disabilities or food allergies may require special diet plans. If this is the case for your child, seek help from health consultants, other parents, pediatricians, and therapists. You may need to give special attention to amounts of food, frequency of feeding, medication, special equipment, or types of food.

Some common food allergies are cow’s milk, citrus fruits and juice, egg whites, nuts, soy and wheat, and the symptoms may include coughing, diarrhea, itching, nausea, rashes, runny nose, sneezing, stomach pain, swelling, and vomiting. If your child has allergies, always check a food’s ingredients.

You can download our “Nutrition” brochure which includes My Plate guidelines and find additional brochures and podcasts on Children’s Home Society of California’s website at www.chs-ca.org. 

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