If it were up to your kids, breakfast would be a bowl of gummy worms, lunch would be French fries dipped in ice cream and dinner would simply be chocolate. Thankfully, you are in charge when it comes to dictating your child's diet, so you can help encourage them to eat healthy and make sure they get the essential vitamins and minerals they need. But what about when you are not around? Do you think they will be able to make the proper nutrition decisions when they are out and about or around their friends? Informing your kids about what is good and what is bad for you can not only benefit them in the long run, but help you rest assured that you are raising a healthy decision maker. Here are a few tips on how to keep your child on the right path to balanced nutrition:
MyPlate is the latest nutrition guide put forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and features a very simplistic design that is easy to follow for children. The symbol resembles a game piece found in Trivial Pursuit, with four corners divided into serving recommendations of fruits, vegetables, grains and protein, and a smaller circle of dairy off to the side. This new template implemented by the First Lady Michelle Obama is not only a straightforward approach toward teaching kids proper nutrition, but also allows them to understand the importance of which grains and protein sources are healthier than others.
Introduce your dinner
When you cook a meal for the family during dinner time, try actually discussing what each food is and why you chose it. Most of the time, kids are told that vegetables like broccoli and peas are simply "good for them," but they are never provided an explanation why. Give your child the details of how each food is broken down and used by your body for various health benefits. For instance, if you are serving a side of broccoli for dinner, discuss how despite its "different" taste, broccoli is full of antioxidants that will help strengthen your bones, your heart and also keep you from getting sick.
Commend healthy behavior
While it is never a good idea to "reward" your child for eating good fruits, providing a smile or a subtle favorable gesture that they are making a healthy decision will promote positive reinforcement, and let them know that they will have your approval when they are eating nutritionally. Instead of allowing your kid to eat a bowl of ice cream after eating all their carrots, reward them with a trip to the park, or a game of catch, something active that they still will enjoy.
Raid the fridge
If your child is seeing potato chips, fruit snacks or ice cream every time they open the pantry or freezer, then its easy to see where poor nutritional influences may arise. Always keep your refrigerator loaded with fruits and vegetables, and try not to leave high sugar junk food snacks within arm's reach.
Lead by example
What good will telling your children to be healthy be when you are always spotted with a bag of popcorn or spoonful of chocolate ice cream? We all know how observant kids can be, so the more you eat healthier foods in front of them, the better they will get the picture.
Avoid total restriction
It's important to understand that a little dessert here and there is not the end of the world. If your child comes home with an A on his or her homework, or his or her team won the championship baseball game, go out and celebrate with a pizza or sundae. Constantly condemning them from their sweet tooth could lead to nutritional revolt the older they get.
The decision between packing a lunch for your children or letting them eat whatever their school is serving has became somewhat of a no-brainer for parents. Statistics have shown that a number of shocking results regarding school lunches, including:
- Students who eat school lunches are more likely to be or become overweight
- Children who bring their own lunches are nearly 20 percent more likely to eat a serving of fruit or vegetable
- Those who eat school lunches are more than twice as likely to drink a high-sugared beverage
- Kids who eat school lunches are at a greater risk of developing higher cholesterol levels
Sure, not having to pack your child a meal everyday can save you time and energy in the morning, but the fact of the matter is making your kid's lunch allows you to monitor how healthy he or she is eating, as well as knowing the nutritional background of the food. But just because your child is brown-bagging it to class, doesn't necessarily mean they are eating healthier. Many of the advertised foods for kids are just as bad, if not worse, than the meals provided through the school. Here are some popular lunch items for kids that are proven to be unhealthy, and some alternative choices to get your child the proper nutrients they need.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
The PB&J is a classic kid's lunch entree that has been passed down from generation to generation. It also is, to say the least, not the healthiest option for children. Using only two slices of white bread, and a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter and jelly can account for nearly one-third of a child's recommended daily fat, sodium and carbohydrate intake. And that's just after one sandwich.
To craft a slimmer version, try using whole wheat bread instead of white, which has plenty of more crucial vitamins and minerals essential for children, including vitamin B, potassium and magnesium. Then, instead of your standard canned jelly, try to slip some fruits in there, like some freshly cut strawberries that are full of rich antioxidants. Top it off with just 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, and you have a PB&J without half of the fat and calories.
You know all those fruit drinks for kids that guarantee 100 percent vitamin C and natural ingredients? Well they are actually loaded with sugars and artificial flavors that can not only give your child cavities, but raise their overall cholesterol as well. Just one 6.75 ounce serving size of apple juice can contain more than 22 grams of sugar.
It's not just juice boxes that are guilty of sugar overload. All fruit drinks should be used sparingly with children, and they never have the same nutritional benefits that real fruit does. Instead, try packing some finger picking fruits, such as clementines, grapes or apple sauce, that will fulfill their vitamin C needs with way less sugar.
There are so many processed and non-nutritional meats marketed towards children that it is practically impossible to tell what should be served and what should be banned from the refrigerator. Whether it's pre-packaged turkey, hot dogs or frozen fish sticks, these choices are stuffed with sodium nitrate that can raise potential risks for a child's heart in the future.
When shopping for store-bought meats, it's important to scan the labels until you find the words "preservative free." Just because something is marked as "natural" doesn't mean it is. You can always try turning your kid on to tuna sandwiches, which are excellent sources of protein and vitamin B, while also being great for your heart.
Whether they come by the foot, change colors or are gushing with flavor, there's no nutritional reason a bag of fruit snacks should be part of your child's lunch. The extreme amount of high fructose corn syrup alone should be enough to shut down any possibilities of fruit snacks showing up in the lunch box.
Go for a pack of raisins, which have a number of positive health benefits, including potassium, calcium and oleanolic acid, which can help prevent cavities and tooth decay, something fruit snacks can't quite claim. And don't forget carrots, which are loaded with vitamin A and ideal for improving vision and promoting healthy gums.
There are a lot of questions around whether or not children can or should take supplements. The answers often depend on a particular child's dietary needs and his or her current state of health.
According to Mayo Clinic consultant Dr. Jay Hoecker, most children who are growing normally don't need multivitamins. Even if your child is a picky eater, it does not necessarily mean that he or she is not getting sufficient nutrients. This is because many foods today are fortified with vitamins and nutrients. So, even if your child's palate hasn't yet evolved to enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables, it's likely that his or her milk, orange juice and breakfast cereals – among other things – are fortified with nutrients like vitamin D, the B vitamins, iron and calcium.
In fact, multivitamins might offer more minerals and vitamins than your child needs or interact with his or her medications, so it's always best to talk to your child's pediatrician before you give him or her any supplements. In general, children who might need a multivitamin are those who:
- Have a restrictive diet such as veganism.
- Have food allergies or an illness that restricts what they can eat.
- Have failure to thrive – a condition where it is not always certain why an infant or child does not develop or gain weight in line with its peers.
Other supplements that your child might benefit from are immune boosters, which both regulate and balance the intestinal flora and give a lift to an immune system, especially in a time of stress such as around the holidays. One option is Symbiotics Colostrum Plus Chewables for children, which come in three flavors: orange creme, pineapple and cherry. Colostrum's dual action – in the bloodstream and in the GI tract – helps maintain a robust intestinal lining and promotes healthy intestinal flora in a normal GI tract.
If your pediatrician does recommend a supplement for your child for any reason, here are some tips:
- Supplements are not an excuse to forgo healthy eating.
- Give the supplement only in recommended doses.
- Remind your kids that supplements are not candy.
When children are sick, many parents are reluctant to give them cough syrup – and rightly so. In fact, the best research to date shows that cough and cold medicines aren't effective for children. Researchers aren't exactly sure why, but they think it might be related to children's more narrow airways.
Also, according to the Mayo Clinic, aside from being ineffective, these medications can potentially be harmful to children, causing rapid heart rate and convulsions, though it's not clear who this might happen to. Also, some children receive medications from both a caregiver and parents at home – the lack of communication could cause serious problems, especially in very little ones.
Most experts recommend an over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to ease sore throats or headache pain and to reduce fevers. Otherwise a warm bath can help loosen mucus in small children.
Check with your doctor, but one good, natural and alcohol-free option to ease your child's cough is Naturade Children's Expectorant Alcohol-Free. It comes in cherry flavor and may help increase cough productivity and clear bronchial passages. The medication is meant for children who are 4 years of age or older. It has a cherry flavor and includes all-natural ingredients like peppermint leaf extract, rose hips and cocillana bark extract. This product is a good natural alternative to regular cough medications. Still, it should not be given to children under 4 years old and, as with any medication, you should check with your doctor to make sure it is safe for your child.
There are also versions for adults, including Naturade Alcohol-Free Expectorant and Naturade Herbal Expectorant with Guafenesin, both of which are all-natural and can reduce cough intensity and enhance productivity of coughing.
One of the biggest struggles for many parents is getting their kids to try and enjoy healthy foods. Kids are notoriously picky – though not all of them are – but there are some things you can do to promote healthy eating and to get them to try new things. Here are some tips as well as a few child-friendly healthy dinner ideas:
Tips to get kids to like healthy foods
- Start young. Good food habits should start as soon as your children are on solid foods. Limit sugary foods, processed meats like hot dogs and fried items like chicken nuggets and fries. You don't have to eliminate these foods altogether, but introduce healthier foods right away and save these for special occasions.
- Role model healthy eating. If your kids see you enjoying fruits, vegetables and whole grains, they'll want to follow. Younger children especially want to mimic their parents' every moves.
- Let it be their choice. It's important to let it be your child's choice whether or not she or he eats the carrots you've put on the plate. Forcing a child to eat vegetables or bribing him or her will only create a negative association with that food now and in the future.
- Stay positive and patient. Don't get frustrated if your kids eat around the salad on their plates. New foods are scary to kids, so it's important to encourage them to try new things. Eat your salad with relish – never say things like "Mommy doesn't like it either but I eat it anyway" – and try again next time. Often, it takes children a few times of exposure to new foods to even try them. Your job is to at least make sure healthy foods are available.
- Don't limit healthy foods. Let your kids have fruits and vegetables for a snack whenever they're hungry for them, emphasizing that these are "anytime" snacks because they are healthy, as opposed to "sometimes" snacks like cookies and chips.
- Get your children involved! When grocery shopping, give your child a few tasks like picking out the apples that look the best or choosing the veggie for dinner that night. When you get home from the store, play a game where you sort foods by colors and texture. Get creative! You might also want to consider growing fruits and vegetables in a small garden at home, taking kids to a working farm to see where foods come from and introducing them to foods with funny names like papaya and bok choy, which you can laugh about with them.
- When introducing a new food, sometimes it's a good idea to pair it with something you know your child already likes. For example, add spinach and parmesan cheese to his or her mashed potatoes and serve them as "green potatoes."
- Don't hide healthy foods from kids but be honest with them about what they're eating so they can learn to like it.
Healthy dinner ideas that are kid-friendly
Expand your children's palates by introducing them to new foods prepared in a way that is unavoidably tasty but also familiar. Here are some healthy meal ideas that kids will enjoy:
- Baked fish sticks made with fresh salmon and coated in parmesan and bread crumbs
- Turkey and bulgar meatballs with whole-wheat pasta
- Homemade kale chips – kids love salty things
- A colorful fruit salad dressed with vanilla yogurt
- Make homemade miniature pizzas and provide a wide variety of healthy toppings for your child to choose from, including mushrooms, bell peppers and various low-fat cheeses.
Adults often do yoga to build muscle strength, find their centers, develop inner calm and reduce stress. Many experts suggest that yoga positions can also have similar benefits for children. In today's world, parents and schools often put a lot of pressure on children to succeed at younger ages, and with instant access to technology and the rapid spread of using laptops and other devices in classrooms, it seems that children's minds are always active and their bodies are always on the go.
If you have kids, you should know that most experts agree that modified yoga positions – excluding hot yoga – can be good for their minds and bodies. Here are some recognized benefits of yoga as well some starting positions for children:
Benefits of yoga for kids
- Yoga is great for family time. Your young children might see you doing yoga and want to join in, or maybe you'd like to make yoga part of your morning or before-bed routine. This calm, meditative practice can be a good way for you to spend quality time with your kids during the busy weekdays.
- Yoga can calm children who are hyperactive are anxious, allowing them to appreciate relaxing breathing techniques and quiet movement.
- Some researchers believe that yoga helps children manage stress by learning to quiet their minds.
- It teaches children about their bodies and how to be the "boss of their bodies." This encourages self-control and self-awareness.
- Telling children that yoga is fun and good for them is a way to successfully encourage them to care for themselves.
- Yoga is good for children physically, as it involves a warm-up and postures that help them develop balance.
- Partner poses can make yoga more fun and encourage working together.
Yoga for kids
- To begin, let your child pick out his or her own yoga mat and a pillow or stuffed animal that is used only during yoga.
- Make yoga more fun by choosing animal-named poses or renaming ones to make them more exciting for kids.
- Some regular poses that are generally easy for children include tree, cat, cow and downward dog poses.
- If you do a regular yoga routine that has more difficult poses, you can look online to find ways to easily modify them for kids.
- Other yoga positions that children will enjoy include airplane pose, which begins easily with mountain and encourages balance. Frog, star, upward-facing dog, happy baby, child's pose and others, can all be found on the Namaste Kids website.
- Keep in mind that children are very flexible but don't often have much strength, so choose appropriate poses.
- Don't be serious the entire time – make sure to laugh!
While breast feeding is one way that women can bond with their new babies, it can also be stressful. Some women cannot breast feed due to medical reasons, and for couples who have adopted a child, it is often impossible. In other situations, some women simply cannot produce enough milk.
However, many experts have praised the health benefits of breast feeding over infant formula. Unfortunately, these claims have added to the stress of couples for whom breast feeding is difficult or not possible. Thus, a number of parents have begun purchasing donor breast milk online or having it donated from well-intentioned strangers. However, an October 2013 study from the journal Pediatrics has revealed that this practice is potentially dangerous to infants' health.
According to the study, breast milk purchased over the Internet had alarming rates of bacteria. The researchers collected 101 samples from various milk-sharing websites and analyzed both the bacterial content of the milk and what the sellers said about their handling and storage methods. They found that 64 percent of milk samples were contaminated with the staph bacteria, while nearly 75 percent had other types of bacteria and 36 percent were contaminated with strep. Three of the samples even had salmonella. While staph and strep are common and relatively harmless at normal levels, nine percent of the milk samples had dangerously high levels of staph and a few had high strep levels. Regarding salmonella, which can be deadly, the study's author said this should never be found in milk.
Overall, researchers found that 74 percent of the samples would not have met the fairly strict screening standards of milk banks, which store and pasteurize donated milk for needy infants.
Because there are definite health benefits to breast feeding, many people unable to give their infants breast milk aren't content just using formula. However, there are other animals that breast feed to provide important nutrients to their offspring. The "first milk" of lactating cows – called colostrum – may be a safe alternative to donor breast milk due to its ability to support the immune system. One such product is Naturade's Proline-Rich Polypeptides with Colostrum in powder form, which can be mixed into formula. This product is considered safe for all ages, but as with all supplements, it's recommended that you talk to your child's pediatrician before using.
Kids are a tricky bunch. Sometimes they're really picky eaters and you're not sure if they're getting all of the vitamins and nutrients they need. Luckily, because many of our foods are fortified today, most kids do get all of the essentials, according to the Mayo Clinic, and there's really no need for a multivitamin. However, if children are on restricted diets, have food allergies, suffer from chronic diseases or have been diagnosed with failure to thrive, they could need a doctor-recommended multivitamin. Here are the main nutrients in vitamins important for child health, along with their functions:
- Vitamin A: Supports bone growth and vision, protects the body against infection
- Vitamin D: Supports growth and bone mass, builds strong teeth and bones, helps the body absorb calcium and other minerals
- Vitamin E: Limits free radical production
- Vitamin C: Keeps gums healthy, boosts immune health and healing, helps repair and form cells in the body
- Zinc: Aids digestion and metabolism
- Iron: Makes hemoglobin that brings oxygen to the cells, prevents anemia
- Potassium: Helps control water balance in body and maintain blood pressure
- Magnesium: Keeps heart beats steady and supports immune system, muscle and nerve functions
- Calcium: Supports growth of strong bones and teeth
- Fatty acids: Support healthy brain function, vision and the cardiovascular system
Even the healthiest kids are prone to viruses going around, especially during flu season as they spend eight hours of their day in classrooms in close proximity to other kids. One great product to boost immune health is Symbiotics Colostrum Chewables by Naturade, which are made just for kids and come in three kid-friendly flavors: wild cherry, orange creme and pineapple. It uses Colostrum Plus® that is from the first milk of new mother cows, a nutrient-packed ingredient that may improve the immune system, along with other natural ingredients.
Research has shown that kids who eat breakfast perform better in school – they can concentrate more easily and have improved memory. So, set your children up for success with these foods to give them sustained fuel throughout the day:
- Eggs: Aside from having protein, eggs are also important for kids because the yolks are an excellent source of choline, a B vitamin that is especially important in childhood for healthy brain and liver development and memory. For picky eaters, make eggs more appealing by scrambling them with cheese or serving them in the form of a breakfast sandwich. Other excellent sources of choline – though perhaps less amenable to the young palette – are tofu, beans, Brussels sprouts, yogurt and lean beef. Buckwheat is also an excellent source of choline – use it to make pancakes or waffles, which kids typically love.
- Whole-grain cereal or oatmeal: These breakfast or anytime foods are a great source of complex carbohydrates and fiber and are kid-friendly foods. Even the pickiest kids like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so put tasty, natural ingredients between whole-grain bread.
- Leafy greens: It's hard to get kids, and even some adults, to eat leafy greens. But they provide plenty of iron, which is good for brain development. Try to hide spinach in a "green smoothie," mixed with berries, Greek yogurt, honey, other fruit and ice. You can even name it to make it more appealing to children.
- Berries: It's often pretty easy to get kids to eat berries, which have important antioxidants that have been shown to improve memory. However, if you have a particularly picky eater, smoothies are always the way to go when it comes to berries.
- Bright veggies: These also have antioxidants important for brain health. If you can't find other ways to get your kids to eat them, bake them as fun and tasty veggie chips.
Children are extremely impressionable. If you go outside and go for a run, they're going to want to do the same. If you yell at the football game on TV, they're going to want to do the same. And if you reach for a big piece of cake to snack on, they're going to want a piece as well. All of these habits stick with children well into adulthood, so it's important to get your children on a path to eating healthy while they're young. But that isn't always an easy task. Here are a few ways to promote healthy eating to your little one:
Bring them along to the store
Have your child be your little shopping assistant. Shop around the produce department and have them pick out fruits and vegetables that they would like to try out. They may be interested in certain item due to its name, color or shape. This way, they're going to want to try it when they get home.
Let them help out at home
When you're making dinner, encourage your children to help you out. Even the youngest of children can help wash vegetables or peel potatoes. If they're the ones making the food, they're going to be excited to try out what they created, including new foods as well as fruits and vegetables containing lots of antioxidants, helping them to eat healthier without even realizing it.
If you have to whip something up really quick, it's likely you're going to reach for food that can easily be microwaved. However, those are the foods that often aren't the best when it comes to nutritional content. Instead, try to plan dinners ahead so they're all well-balanced and include a variety of food groups, such as fruits, whole grains and vegetables.
Offer a fun dip
Vegetables alone won't look appealing to kids. But when you pair it with hummus or some ranch salad dressing, those vegetables look much more appetizing. When you offer these dips to children, they'll have fun dipping and munching their healthy treat.