March marks National Nutrition Month in the United States, which aims to encourage the development of healthy eating habits in order to achieve optimal nutrition and health. This is particularly important in children, as promoting a healthy attitude towards food in childhood can give kids healthy habits that last a lifetime.
With this year’s theme “Go Further with Food,” and the recent news that rates of childhood obesity are still on the rise in the U.S., we round up some ways that parents can teach children about the importance of eating well and enjoying a varied diet.
Encourage them to eat their greens
Although most parents would agree it can be hard to get children to eat their veggies, it is not impossible according to researchers at Harvard University. The team found that when school dinner vegetables were made more palatable with the help of a professional chef, children ate up to 30 percent more. Although parents might not have a professional at home to help them with the cooking, experimenting with different cooking methods and adding herbs and spices might help change children’s minds about eating their greens.
Eat together as a family
A recent meta-analysis by a team of German researchers found that regularly eating together as a family helps pass healthy eating habits onto children that last well into adulthood, potentially preventing obesity later in life. The team found that frequent family meals are associated with lower body mass index (BMI) and a healthy diet in children, with the relationship found across all countries and all ages and whether meals were taken with just one parent or the whole family. According to the researchers, it is not just the quality of the meal which sets a healthy attitude towards food, but also factors such as a pleasant atmosphere at meal times that can improve eating habits.
Take time for meals
As well as eating together as a family, studies also suggest that taking time to eat also encourages healthier eating habits compared to rushing meals. According to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, school children need at least 25 minutes to have lunch, and by allowing them more time they are more likely to have an appetizer, add a vegetable side to their main meal, and add a fruit to their meal. When a child had less than 20 minutes to eat however they were less likely to eat a balanced meal.
Get kids involved in food
By getting children involved in all aspects of food, not just eating it, parents can help kids develop a healthy interest in what they eat and encourage them to make more nutritious food choices. Tanda Kidd, an associate professor of human nutrition and extension specialist at Kansas State University, says that parents and children should cook together, go grocery shopping together, and read food labels together to teach children about the nutritional value of their food. Kidd also adds that planting a garden together could also give children an appreciation for vegetables, as well as giving families some quality time together. JB