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Raising Healthy Eaters – Tips to Help Parents and Educators

How to raise healthy eaters

Tips and strategies to get our children excited about healthy eating and easy way to instil healthy eating habits in kids

It’s a common topic of discussion among parents – what their kids do and don’t eat.  Picky eaters are not due to poor parenting; many good parents have children who prefer junk food.  What can be done to help our children grow up as healthy eaters?

Serve Healthy Food

Sounds obvious right?  But when a child doesn’t like a food, it’s often easier to just not serve it to them.  Make a point of always providing fruit, vegetables and healthy proteins with their meals at home and lunches for school.  Encourage them to try “just a bite”.

A study done in 2010 showed that kids who tried a vegetable that they didn’t like 8 or 9 times began to then like it more.  It takes time to develop a taste for food – but with each try, they’ll get closer to liking it more. MyPlate Food Guide and  Canada’s Food Guide provide direction for having healthy and balanced food intake.

Improve Nutrition

According to Dr. Claire McCarthy of Harvard Health Publishing, “Make sure half their calories are from “good” carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  Healthy eaters need to limit highly processed carbohydrates, such as cookies, cakes, sodas, and chips.  Keep healthy snacks, such as yoghurt, fruits, and vegetables, on hand instead of high-fat, high-sodium foods.”

Control unhealthy amounts of unnecessary calorie intake.  Eat minimal fast food.  Provide water and low-fat milk for beverages and limit sodas and other drinks that are high in sugar.  Be mindful when you’re shopping – if junk food is not in the house, they (and you!) can’t snack on it.

Be aware of how you talk about food

We tend to talk about “good food” and “bad food”.  But then when we eat “bad” food, what does that say about us?  Treats and junk food will always be a part of special events, celebrations or holidays.  Having a “good” or “bad” association with food doesn’t help us with our feelings around food.  Of course, the goal is to have an overall healthy diet, but try changing the focus of your conversations around food. It would be encouraging and helpful for the young healthy eaters to hear more about healthy choices and reasonable amounts instead of good and bad.

Involve your children with food

Take your children grocery shopping and include them in making healthy selections.  Of course, they’ll want every treat in the store, but let them select apples that they think look nice or pick out a new vegetable to try with dinner.  Have your healthy eaters help in the kitchen with food preparation.

It’s a way to spend and enjoy time together, they’ll learn important cooking skills and they’ll have a better understanding of the food they eat.  You can even grow food together!  Have them pick out seeds to plant in the garden and then enjoy the harvest.  All of these things can make healthy eating an enjoyable and shared experience.

Start Early

A study presented at the annual meeting of The Obesity Society showed that the obesity epidemic is ingrained with poor eating habits that began between the ages of 12 and 24 months.  Babies need to learn to listen to their own hunger cues and parents forcing them to finish a bottle can confuse that.

Early eaters who are given vegetables and fruits regularly will think of them as normal foods rather than ones they’re forced to eat.  Be mindful of how those early meals set them up to eat for years to come.

Avoid using food as a reward or punishment

Food has three key roles: nutrition, social engagement and emotional input.  We eat to survive by consuming nutrients.  We eat while we engage socially with others, during holidays and for special occasions.  We also eat because it provides pleasure.

Using food to reward good behaviour or punish poor behaviour creates confusion around food.  It might work to alter behaviour in the short term, but in the long term, it creates a function around food that is unhealthy.

It’s not just about food

Eating healthy is important, but health is also about exercise, rest, less screen time and more family time.  School-aged kids should be getting a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity on most days.  Be a role model and get moving regularly yourself.  Help your child get enough rest but enforcing set bed and wakeup times, cutting caffeine intake and ensuring they get 8-9 hours of sleep per night.

TV, computers, tablets and videos games contribute to a sedentary lifestyle.  When at a screen, children’s metabolism slows while their appetites increase.  Eat together as a family, interact and engage with one another over the meal.  This provides an opportunity to demonstrate healthy eating yourself while maintaining positive relationships among the family members.

Get Support

Sometimes creative methods may be needed and advice from a professional can help.  Speak with your family doctor if, despite your best efforts, your child’s diet needs expanding.  If you personally have an unhealthy relationship with food, get support so you can feel confident in fostering your child’s relationship with eating.

For more suggestions and guidance around nutrition and healthy eating, visit the government of Canada’s webpage for Food and Nutrition.

Check out Little Food Lovers, a free e-book series dedicated to family-friendly recipes and snack and meal ideas, as well as lifestyle tips and strategies designed to get your kids excited about healthy eating!

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children and screen time
Children and screen time: 5 things kids miss out while glued to their screens

TV, cell phones, video games, computers, tablets.  Technology is everywhere and for many parents and educators, it is a challenge to figure out how to limit their child’s screen time and create healthy boundaries.  It’s a subject affecting children of all ages. Parents use phones and tablets to keep their toddlers in one spot for a few minutes. When kids become teenagers, they are glued to their phones constantly chatting, messaging, and connecting with friends on social media.

AAP Guidelines for children’s use of technology

In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines for children’s use of technology.  The AAP recommends:

  • Babies younger than 18 months: no screen with the exception of video-chats
  • Kids 18 to 24 months: high-quality programming if parents want to introduce digital media; parents should watch with kids
  • Kids 2 to 5 years: limited screen time to one hour a day of high-quality programs; parents should view with kids
  • Kids 6 and older: consistent limits on screen time; limits on types of media; and making sure screen use does not interfere with kids getting enough exercise and sleep
  • Parents should establish screen-free times (ex. During dinner) and no-screen areas in the home (ex. In bedrooms).
  • Parents should talk to kids about online safety and being respectful to others online.

It takes time and effort to establish healthy boundaries and make sure that our children can use technology beneficially and safely, but it is really worth it. Here is a reminder of the important things kids miss out on while they are glued to their screens.

5 things kids miss out while glued to their screens

What are some alternatives to screen time?

  1. Connecting with Family

Family time suffers when parents and kids permit technology to dominate their time.  Time spent looking at the screen is missed opportunities to connect with each other. Dedicating times throughout the day and areas of the home that are screen-free will promote time without devices.  Then you’ll be able to truly engage with one another and foster positive relationships.

  1. Creative Play

Entertainment delivered from a screen is most often passive.  According to the Brain Performance Center, “when you watch TV, brain activity switches from the left side of your brain responsible for logical thought and critical analysis) to the right side.  This is significant because the right side of the brain tends not to analyze incoming information.”

When the screens are off and a child is left to play, they then have the time and space to use their imagination.  They can build, create, draw, and paint.  Have materials for creative play in places that are accessible to your children and ask them questions about the things they create.  Imaginative play is essential for children’s development.

  1. Outdoor Play

Physical activity is essential for children’s health and getting them outside will allow them to run, throw a ball and play sports.  Fresh air and sunshine also improve health.  Time spent outside allows them to develop an interest and appreciation for the natural world.  Unplugging and going outdoors benefits kids physically, emotionally and mentally.

  1. Reading

Screen time is missed opportunity to pick up a book.  Watching screens puts children in a passive state of only intaking information.  Meanwhile, reading is mentally stimulating.  It is also beneficial for vocabulary expansion, improved memory, building strong analytical thinking skills and improving focus and concentration.  Encourage a love for books by reading with your child and set an example by reading yourself.  Build reading into the bedtime routine you have with your child and have them spend as much time with a book as with a screen.

  1. Building Friendships

Due to the constant connectedness of technology, the way that children interact is very different than the way their parents did growing up.  Friends get together and play video games or stream movies.  Teenagers communicate through social media and text rather than engage in face-to-face conversations.  When we get our children to socialize without the screens, they can participate in imaginative play, outdoor spots, traditional board games and undistracted conversation with their peers.  They can then create memories and bonds with others.

It’s not just a matter of what kids miss out on while they’re on a device.  Limiting screen time will let them gain in their overall health.

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