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Kids and Nutrition
By Jyl Steinback

You would think it would be so easy to raise healthy kids in today's so-called "health-conscious" society, but only 9% of children ages 6-11 eat the recommended servings of vegetables and fruit and most children exceed the dietary guidelines for fat and sodium. Unfortunately today's children are raised in a fast-food world where supersized portions, sugar-laden drinks, and saturated fatty foods are overwhelmingly abundant. They are inundated with billboards, commercials, and enticing advertising schemes that keep "unhealthy" foods in the forefront of their minds.

Despite the fact that children are born knowing how much food they need and would probably make healthy food choices without realizing it, they lose their ability to regulate their eating as soon as their parents start telling them what and how much to eat. They are facing an increasing number of nutritional problems these days and our culture is responsible for creating this dilemma. Beyond the fast-food forces working in our society, it is up to us as parents to create a new culture of health where we model good eating habits, provide regular and shared meals and set limits on foods with little nutritional value. Children and adults need about 50 nutrients throughout the day for body growth, maintenance, and repair. With the focus on variety, balance, and moderation we can help our children make the healthy food choices they need to continue to live a healthy life.

What PARENTS should do:

" Plan menus. As children get older, they can be involved in menu planning, grocery shopping, and meal preparation. The more involved they are, the more they feel in control of their choices.

" In general, choose foods that are low in fat, low in calories, low in cholesterol and high in fiber, except for children under the age of two who should not have their fat intake restricted.

" Cooking and eating meals with your children improves nutrition at all ages. It not only improves interaction and communication, but can also improve both learning and language skills. It is a wonderful time to express togetherness and develop traditions.

" Offer a variety of healthful foods. Do not label foods "healthy and unhealthy" or "good and bad." Tempt hungry kids with healthy snacks. Remember: The focus is variety, balance, and moderation, NOT deprivation or denial.

" Make breakfast a priority and don't leave home without it. It's energizing for body and brainpower!

" Develop a schedule for meals and snacks. Teach kids to listen to their bodies. It is better to have a small snack if they are feeling hungry and stop eating when they feel full than to push food when they are not hungry. Just because it says 12:00 does NOT mean it is time to eat! Your body is your clock - listen to what it tells you!

" Set a good example for healthy living -- kids will follow healthy habits.

" Serve all meals on plates rather than in serving dishes. If children want second helpings, they can learn to ask for them.

" Say "no" to supersize! Portion control is an essential part of healthy living habits.

" Avoid bribing, nagging, or rewarding children for eating certain foods or quantities of foods. Don't ever use food for punishment or reward.

" Quit the "clean plate club!"

" Be patient when trying to get children to try new foods. Children are naturally hesitant - offer once or twice, but try to allow them to make their own choices. Introduce new foods by describing their taste, texture, color and temperature (such as sweet, sour, smooth, chunky, juicy, dry, hot, cold). Introduce new fruits and vegetables one at a time. Forcing foods actually makes children more resistant to trying new foods - the important thing is that you continue to serve a variety of healthy choices and set a good example by eating them yourself.

" Keep cleaned, ready-to-eat vegetables and fruit at eye level in the refrigerator. Merchandise healthy food choices - what you see is usually what you will eat!

" Serve foods, especially vegetables (which children are most resistant to), in a variety of ways. While some kids may enjoy crunchy vegetables with low fat dip, others may prefer them added to soups or stews (whole, chopped or pureed); stir-fried with chicken, meat or fish; or served as part of a favorite casserole or other dish.

" Limit the amount of liquid calories (soda and sweetened beverages). By the time kids reach their teenage years, nearly one fourth are drinking more than 26 ounces of soda a day. This is one of the contributing factors to an increase in childhood obesity. Studies have determined that for every additional serving per day of soda consumed, the risk of becoming obese increases by about 50%.1 Parents can encourage better beverage choices by: keeping water readily accessible; providing personal water bottles that children can take to school, sporting events, etc.; limit, but do not "forbid" sweetened beverages. Restricting choices only makes them more desirable, so try to set limits and help children make their own healthy choices.

" Provide a variety of low fat and nonfat dairy foods or other calcium food sources. Children, ages 4-8, require 800 milligrams of calcium daily, while children 9-18 require 1,300 milligrams. While the best sources of calcium are milk, yogurt, and cheese, other foods such as calcium-fortified juices, leafy green vegetables, and canned fish with bones can also provide the calcium your children need.

" Try to avoid making every activity an "eating" activity.

" Limit time spent in sedentary activities (watching television, playing video and/or computer games).

" Become food label savvy! Identify the nutritional quality of foods for easy healthy eating choices.

" Balance food choices. You don't have to give up your favorite foods to eat healthy. Fit in a higher-fat food (like a hamburger and fries at lunch) by choosing lower-fat foods at other meals.

" NEVER encourage children to skip meals.

1. Ludwig, D. The Relationship between Sugar-Sweetened Drinks and Childhood Obesity. The Lancet. February 2001. http://www.childrensalliance.org/

Jyl Steinback, "America's Healthiest Mom," is a cookbook author, personal trainer and health expert. Her popular series "Family Fit Lifestyle Cookbooks" have sold more than 2 million copies. "The Busy Mom's Make it Quick Cookbook" (October, 2004) includes over 300 low-fat, quick and healthy recipes. Jyl is a popular motivational speaker and television personality, and she continues as a personal trainer six days a week in Scottsdale, Arizona. The books and fitness products she creates are designed to instill healthy living into every lifestyle.

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