Since 1980, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has recognized March as National Nutrition Month (NNM), with the goal to raise awareness for the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and activity habits. This year’s theme is Go Further with Food, which aims to influence communities to make healthier choices overall. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate just how far healthy eating can take us!
At Somma Foods, we’re big on nutrition, especially childhood nutrition. That’s because establishing a pattern of healthy eating habits during adolescence can set a person on a lifelong path of good health. By teaching the children in your life about nutrition and modeling good behavior for them, you’re essentially making an investment in their future!
Of course, it’s one thing to know that your child should be eating healthy foods; getting them to actually do it is another matter entirely. And if your little one is a picky eater or resistant to change, then this task is even more difficult. But, don’t give up! Here are some of our favorite tips for encouraging good eating habits:
- Keep healthy snacks on hand. When children get hungry, they’re often limited to eating whatever’s in the house. They just don’t have the resources to take themselves to the grocery store (or a nearby restaurant) and purchase food. Take advantage of this by making sure that your pantry and fridge are stocked with nutritious snacks instead of food that’s high in salt, sugar or calories. A child may have trouble choosing wholesome chicken tenders over a plate of pizza bagels, but if they’re made to choose between the chicken tenders and nothing, the decision becomes much easier!
- Get creative. As the old saying goes, “We eat with our eyes first.” Sometimes, all it takes is a pretty presentation to get a picky eater to try something new (or finish something they normally wouldn’t touch). Try cutting brightly-colored fruits and vegetables into flower or animal shapes, using food coloring to dye entrées different hues, or substituting plain sandwiches for wraps or sushi-style rolls. You can even assign certain foods silly names; after all, broccoli and low-fat milk don’t lose any of their nutritional value if they’re referred to as “baby trees” and “cereal sauce!”
- Let your child help with the shopping and meal planning. A bit of compromise can go a long way here. By asking your son to suggest which vegetables your family should eat with dinner during the week, what kind of snacks he’d like to keep on hand, and even which meals he wants to have in the next few days, you can give him a sense of control and responsibility. And, if he feels that he has a say in what he eats, he is far more likely to be a good sport about eating healthy.
- Sneak in substitutions. If you have a little one who would happily eat mac and cheese three meals a day, try making a batch of mac with whole grain pasta. If your teen loves hot dogs, slip them some chicken franks one night instead of traditional beef franks. And if you’re truly stumped, look online for recipes that involve hiding puréed vegetables or fruit in seemingly innocuous entrées. You don’t need to broadcast the fact that you’re trying something new, but if your child asks what they’re eating, don’t lie to them, either. Chances are, they’ll be fascinated to know that the yummy pasta sauce they’re eating contains carrots and peppers.
More than anything, being healthy is about balance and variety. Take time to talk about nutrition, and help the children in your life make good choices. A healthy future starts with eating better today!