We live in a complicated food world. So how can we make it simple and keep our children healthy? It’s important to encourage your child’s independence, but don’t let her dictate what and when food is served. Only she knows how much she needs to eat at any meal or snack, but she really does not know what is good for her. In today’s world, an innate preference for sweet and salty foods can lead to very poor food choices, which is why you need to help with what and how food is served.
Rule 1: The family that eats together is healthy together. Serve three meals each day and eat together as a family, in a designated area as often as you can. Children who eat with their family make better food selections and eating in only one spot eliminates mindless eating in front of the computer or television. A regular, flexible but predictable schedule means children don’t have to overeat at one meal in case the next does not come on time.
Rule 2: Include a fruit or vegetable or both with every meal and most snacks. A meal that includes only one item such as macaroni and cheese, for example is not well rounded nutritionally, and it may promote overeating because it is so low in fiber and it offers no new taste experiences. Remember a child needs to try a food ten to fifteen times before accepting it – most parents stop after three tries. Keep offering those fruits and veggies!
Rule 3: Know what foods your child needs. The food suggestions below apply to children age 2 to 18, the smaller portions being for the younger children and the larger for the adolescents and teens. All children will be healthiest if they get the minimum from each food group. (If your child is an athlete or very active more of all will be needed.)
Fruit. 1 to 2 ½ cups of fruit every day. Fresh or frozen is superior to fruit juice and fruit candy or highly advertised fruit snacks.
Vegetables. 1 cup to 3 cups of vegetables every day. The more color the better. Serve them raw, roasted, boiled or steamed. Buy them fresh or frozen.
Milk/Calcium. Children don’t need milk – they need calcium (milk just happens to be a very easy and healthy way to get calcium). 2 to 3 cups per day. A 1-½ ounce slice of cheese can replace 1 cup of milk, and 1 cup of yogurt carries the same calcium as 1 cup of milk.
Proteins. Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans and peas, eggs, nuts and seeds are all sources of protein. A 1 ounce portion of meat, poultry, fish can be substituted with; 1 egg, ¼ cup cooked beans or tofu; 1 tbsp peanut butter, ½ ounce( about 2 tbsp) nuts or seeds. Children age 2-3 require 2-4 ounces daily; age 4-8 require 3-5-½ ounces; age 9-13 require 5-6-½ ounces and adolescents age 14–18 need 5 ½- 7 ounces each day.
Whole grains. Children (and mom and dad) should eat half of their grain foods as whole grains. Whole grain examples: whole-wheat and rye breads, whole grain cereals and crackers, oatmeal and brown rice. A serving is usually one ounce or 1 slice of bread, ½ cup rice, pasta or cooked cereal or an 80-calorie portion. If whole grain foods are new to your family menu offer them at one meal every day and work up to serving them at two out of three meals every day.
Fat and oils. These are essential for good health. Use plant-based oils such as olive oil and canola oil in cooking, and salad dressings and soft vegetable oil spreads or small amounts of butter at the table.
– From The Baby Food Bible by Eileen Behan (2008)