Good nutrition during the school-age years is key to helping children grow, feel good and do their best. Besides nourishing their growing bodies, establishing healthy eating habits for kids supplies them with the energy they need each day for school, activities and fun. During grade school years, 6- to 12-year-olds start learning to make food choices on their own. Parents and caregivers play a vital role in raising healthy eaters and helping children develop healthful eating and active living habits to last a lifetime.
Raising Healthy Eaters
Raising healthy eaters is like doing well in school. It takes hard work and commitment—by both parents and children. You can create an environment that encourages developing healthy eating habits for kids with these practical guidelines.
- Be a good role model. Children learn habits for healthful eating and active living by watching others. Parents and other caregivers are a child’s most influential teachers.
- Make a variety of nourishing and appropriate foods available. Then let your child decide what to eat and how much. When children listen to their body cues, they learn to eat appropriate amounts of food to satisfy their hunger.
- Set a routine for eating. Try to establish a time and place for eating, and eat meals as a family whenever possible. Keep the focus on meals and snacks rather than eating while watching television, playing video games or working on a computer.
- Respect your child’s appetite and food preferences. Your child’s rate of growth will vary during these years, and so will his or her appetite. Food preferences may also change as your child develops new tastes. Don’t engage in power struggles or use food as a reward or punishment.
- Involve your child in planning meals and snacks. Children are more likely to eat foods that they help plan, choose or prepare. This is an opportunity for children to try new foods and develop cooking skills, too.
- Keep mealtimes relaxed. This is an ideal time for family conversation and bonding.
Breakfast feeds a child’s body and brain—helping to provide the energy and stamina a child needs to pay attention in class, get schoolwork done and participate in physical activities. Breakfast eaters are also more likely to meet their daily needs for important nutrients like calcium and iron, making this an important healthy eating habit for kids. Serve one of these quick and tasty ideas to help your child get off to a great start each morning.
- Waffle topper. Top a warm toaster waffle with a scoop of low fat cottage cheese and some fresh fruit.
- Breakfast wrap. Roll up scrambled eggs, peppers, refried beans and cheese in a tortilla for a savory breakfast burrito or try peanut butter and banana slices for a sweeter option.
- Yogurt parfait. Layer yogurt, berries and ready-to-eat cereal in a dessert dish.
- Grab and go foods. No-time-for-breakfast choices can include items such as a cereal bar, peanut butter sandwich, small bag of ready-to-eat cereal, muffin, fruit, string cheese, yogurt, applesauce, juice box or small carton of milk.
When planned for and chosen carefully, snacks can be a “nutrition opportunity” for your school-age child. Here are a few reasons to encourage smart snacking when you’re raising a healthy eater.
- Snacks keep kids fueled between meals. For children involved in after-school play, sports activities or lessons, a nutritious snack helps keep them alert and promotes endurance and optimal performance.
- Snacks can fill in nutrient gaps. Snacks can contribute about one-fourth of the calories and nutrients your child needs each day.
- Snacks help prevent between-meal hunger. When appropriately spaced between meals, snacks help keep hunger at bay and may curtail overeating at the next meal.
- Go easy on fats and sweets. Fats and sweets can be part of healthful eating, but should not replace more nutritious foods from the five food groups.
- Encourage kids to brush their teeth after eating or, if that’s not possible, to rinse their mouths with water or chew sugarless gum.
A+ for Physical Activity
For good health, physical activity and healthful eating go hand-in-hand. The grade school years are a great time to help children develop positive physical activity habits. Children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Help your child find fun ways to move. Encourage active play, such as running, jumping rope, dancing and biking; family or neighborhood games, such as tag, kickball or badminton; as well as organized activities, such as soccer, swimming, softball and basketball.
Check out these kid-friendly Healthy Living food ideas that show how delicious healthful eating can taste!
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