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NUTRITION

Kids on Nutrition

As America continues to address the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, it is important to remember that educating our own kids on nutrition and healthy eating can vastly improve that situation. Even if you've never broached the subject of nutrition and healthy eating with your child, it's never too late to start. Many people feel that if they lecture their kids on nutrition and healthy eating, they might be sending the signal that they believe their child is overweight. However, educating kids on nutrition isn't about weight, it's about life-long health.

Start by introducing your child to the food pyramid. If they haven't already been introduced to this concept at school, visit the USDA's website and print a copy of the food pyramid. Ask your child to think of foods he or she likes to eat and have them place those foods in their proper food group. Next, have your child think of something from each food group that they would like to try and help them think of ways they can incorporate foods from each group into their daily diet. Children enjoy being part of decision-making processes and will often astound their parents with their choices.

Educating kids on nutrition requires more than just an understanding of food groups. You should explain to them why healthy eating is important. Tell them that what they eat now can help shape the health of their bodies as they grow and become adults. You don't have to scare them into thinking they can never eat another cookie, just remind them that sweets and junk food should be limited and that healthy snacks can substitute junk foods sometimes. Avoid using words like “diet” and “weight”, especially with teens and adolescents. Remember your objective is to educate your kids on nutrition and healthy eating, not make them self-conscious.

One of the best things you can do for your child when you teach them about nutrition is to model a healthy diet yourself. Begin to introduce vegetables and low fat dip, popcorn, and fruit as snacks and join them at snack time. After all, if it's not good enough for mom or dad to eat, why should they? Also, check with your child's school nutritionist to see if there are potentially unhealthy menu choices at school. Surprisingly, many schools still have high calorie fruit drinks, chips, and cookies available in their lunchroom. Encourage your child to limit their junk food purchases to once a week and substitute fruit and milk or pack the other days.

When you do pack your child's lunch, make sandwiches on whole grain white or wheat bread and supply them with bottled water, real fruit juice or have them buy milk. Pack low-fat chips or pretzels or pieces of fruit to go with their sandwich. You don't have to scale down the lunchbox contents, just make sure you are putting in healthy foods. An occasional sweet treat is OK, just keep it minimal in both size and frequency.

It is so important to introduce kids to the concept of nutrition at an early age, because as they begin to grow, they begin to develop the eating habits they will have all their lives. Make healthier eating a family project and you may be surprised at how well your child responds. Granted, some kids may be resistant to changes, especially if they have been allowed to eat sweets and sugary drinks at will, but in time they will adjust and accept the changes. In the long run, it's better for them and for you as well.

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