Food can be a struggle; for toddlers, for kids and for adults. We have so many options for foods to eat and many times, desserts, treats and “junk” food will win out. This is most obvious to me when the kids get off the bus from school. There are cries of hunger, requests for snacks and pleas for unhealthy treats.
Despite being in this game for over 11 years, and despite them knowing exactly my response they still try. Every day! We talk about healthy choices, good, nutrient-rich foods and making sure we are staying hydrated. But sometimes, they still look at me like I have five heads.
Recently I teamed up with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Strong4Life and had the opportunity to meet up with Registered Dietitian and food expert, Katherine Shary. She took me around a store and gave me helpful hints, tips and pointers for shopping and also eating. Did you know that eating habits in children are formed by age three and can follow them through adolescence and into adulthood. As parents, we have a tremendous opportunity early in our children’s lives to establish a strong foundation and preference for healthy eating. Strong4Life.com, offers busy parents information about food parenting with age-specific tips, facts and advice from the experts (and parents) at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. In fact, Strong4Life has a robust library of online resources with age-specific tips, facts and advice developed by the experts (and parents) at Children’s.
In efforts to help us be better with food and snack choices, I’ve made notes of many of the important things Katherine and I discussed as well as some other things I’ve learned along this parenting and life journey.
Reading nutrition labels is a huge part of nutrition and is so very easy to overlook. They are there for a reason, so make sure you use them to your advantage. Some important things to make sure you check:
- Sugar Content. You would be surprised to see how much sugar and more importantly added sugar is in so many things you eat. For example, cereal should have 6g of sugar or less per serving.
- Saturated Fat. When reading the labels, you want to make sure that saturated fat is 3g or less.
- Overall Ingredients. Those “high fiber” items you love so much? They are often full of fillers like chicory root. Make sure you are buying foods and not fillers.
Drink More Water
- Offer water early. Once children are old enough, offer water to drink instead of milk. This way they learn to enjoy and appreciate it and don’t always want juice or soda.
- Drink often. So often (adults too), our brains confuse being thirsty with being hungry. Drink water throughout the day. And if you are hungry, have some water first to make sure it’s not because you are dehydrated.
- Add frozen berries. This was a great tip for us. The girls take water bottles to school every day and it’s a struggle to get them to drink it all. She suggested adding a frozen strawberry or two. The results? They all drank their water and requested doing it again. An added bonus is that it keeps the water cooler longer. For some reason, the frozen berries really help flavor the water better than fresh.
Make Healthy Swaps
There are a ton of healthy swaps, but to give you an idea, here are a couple we discussed.
- Peanut Butter. Peanut butter is yummy. And it’s also a good snacking item. But, you need to make sure you are eating one that’s just peanuts and not one with loaded sugar and oils. Pick up a natural peanut butter next time. Pro tip: store it upside down in your pantry until you open it to better mix the separated oils.
- Carrots and Celery. We will often suggest peanut butter with apples. But, you can mix it up and go for carrots and celery with your peanut butter for an even better swap.
- Yogurt. Flavored yogurts are loaded with sugars. Grab a plain one (Greek has more protein) and add your own fruits.
- Wraps. Instead of using carbohydrate-filled tortillas and wraps, use big leafy lettuce. It adds the crunch without as much sugar and more vitamins.
- Quinoa. In some recipes, like chili, swap the meat for quinoa as it still adds protein, but changes a meal to vegetarian and reduces the fats and cholesterol.
- Cereal. If you do want to enjoy some cereal, check the labels (see above) and bulk it up with slivered almonds, fruit or chia seeds to add fiber and / or protein.
Stop Unhealthy Habits
Strong4Life’s research shows that Atlanta parents with children below the age of two struggle in the most in the food parenting with the following:
- Rewarding their children with food: 55 percent of parents say they give their child treats or desserts as a reward for good behavior, creating an unhealthy relationship with food.
- Clean their plates: 77 percent of parents try to get their child to eat all the food served and 60 percent urge their child to continue eating even after they say they’re full.
- Short-order cooks: Serving as short-order cooks for children who won’t eat the meal that is provided: 53 percent of parent act as short-order cooks, preparing separate meals.
- Chicken or tuna salad. We eat this all the time for dinner, but I never thought of it as a snack. It should be an appropriate serving and will allow them to have a couple crackers that you know they are wanting while still getting some protein.
- Eggs. I will tell you. I’m not the biggest fan of eggs. But they cook quickly and are a great source of protein. With my instant pot, I cook a half dozen at a time and the kids are thrilled they are available for after school snacking.
- Frozen Yogurt Cups or Parfaits. Freeze plain yogurt in a muffin cup, or just eat it out of the fridge topped with your favorite fruit and maybe a sprinkling of granola and enjoy. It’s a treat but not really.
All of these skills can be carried from store to store as long as you are looking at the labels and making good choices. The earlier we learn them and teach them, the healthier, less “hangry” and less dehydrated we all may be!