Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Healthy Habits for Kids

by Diane Forrest, RN

Ever hear the expression Monkey See, Monkey do?  Well....the same principle applies to bringing up children in a healthy atmosphere.  In order to instill healthy habits in your kids, you must first examine your own habits.  If you don't eat a nutritionally balanced diet, you can't expect your child to.  If you don't exercise regularly there is a good chance your child won't either.  This isn't a "do as I say, not as I do" situation.  Parents must teach by example.

There are many schools of thought on the diets of kids.  How to "Make" a kid eat better. any parent can tell you, you can't Make a child eat anything they don't want.  You can beg, yell, threaten, trick, or bribe, but in the end, they will eat what they want. 

Pediatricians tell new parents when starting solid foods, begin with vegetables.  They tell you if you start with the fruits, which are sweet, you will never get them to eat other things.  You should also only introduce one new item a day, this will help detect any allergies and dislikes.

The American Heart Association has developed the food pyramid that determines the number of servings a person needs for proper nutrition.  They are as follows:

Toddlers(2-4 years)  1000 calories a day including:
                               2 cups milk
                               2 ounces lean meat or beans
                               1 cup fruit
                               1 cup vegetables
                               3 ounces grains

Children (4-8 years) 1200 calories for girls and 1400 calories for boys including:
                               2 cups milk
                               3 - 4 ounces lean meat or beans
                               1.5 cup fruit
                               1 to 1.5 cups vegetables
                               4 to 5 ounces grains

Tweens ( 9-13 years) 1600 calories for girls, 1800 for boys including:
                               3 cups milk
                               5 ounces lean meat or beans
                               1.5 cup fruit
                               2 to 2.5 cups vegetables
                               5 to 6 ounces grains

If you want your child to eat healthy foods, don't draw attention to it.  Fix a child's plate from the same place that you fix your own.  Sit together, eat, talk and enjoy each other's company.  Meal times should be pleasant, not full of conflict.  If your child doesn't like something on his plate, don't get mad.  Ask questions.  Why don't you like it, is it too hard, too soft, too hot, too cold, too salty, too sweet, too bitter.  Not everyone has the same tastes.  The purpose is to introduce different foods to your child to determine his likes or dislikes.

Some people are fans of hiding vegetables in other foods, such as chocolate cake made with beets, or shredded carrots in hamburgers.  Personally, I disagree with this method.  Your child should be able to trust you and the food you give him.  I have a great recipe for hushpuppies made with squash.  You can make something different out of the vegetables, but don't try to trick them let them know what they are eating. 

Some people try to make toys and games out of food.  Again, I don't think it is a good idea to teach kids that it is ok to play with your food, you also want to teach and encourage good table manners during meal time.  I don't think it's wrong to put a smiley face on a peanut butter sandwich, or make trees out of broccoli, just don't make it a habit.

The most important thing you can do is offer nutritious snacks and meals instead of junk food.  If they start with a good foundation, it is easier to stick with healthy food.  Once they start going to day care, school, friends, you will have no control over what they eat and drink.

In addition to monitoring their food intake at home, also pay attention to their physical appearance.  If their hair is dull or flat, eye are sunken or yellow, skin pale or dull, could all be signs of a vitamin deficiency.  If your child is not receiving the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, you can also provide a multivitamin, however, vitamins are not necessary if they are eating a balanced diet.  Fresh air and sunshine and exercise are  also necessary for healthy children. 

As Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it."  A good healthy start will help to make a long healthy life.


  1. Excellent post. My children are long grown up. I could have used your advice when they were young.

  2. Thanks Beth and likewise regarding having this list while our children were home, but we do share it with our grandchildren.