Children - Nutrition And Education

Teaching your child about nutrition will lead to healthy lives for everyone.

The typical family today is so busy and overly scheduled with activities that it has created a whole new set of challenges for mealtime. Often the traditional sit down dinner and socializing as a family at a scheduled mealtime seems like a quaint tradition of our grandparent's day. We all feel the pressure to find easier; faster ways to provide a nutritious meal and eating individually as the family runs in different directions can easily become a habit.

Is it worth it to keep striving for that pleasant memory of making meals together and eating as a family in a relaxed setting around the table? Yes!

GOOD EATING HABITS FOR LIFE

Having dinner as a family is a great opportunity for parents to instill positive reinforcement about nutrition. Helping your child to have good eating habits will affect your child throughout their life. Part of learning good eating habits is helping our children to learn to recognize when their body is full or hungry, an important step in avoiding eating disorders.

Early childhood development specialists encourage parents to let children make choices. Kids should decide "If They Want to Eat" as well as "How Much". By letting young children serve themselves they can begin to learn how large a portion should be and add foods to their plate according to their preferences instead of yours. We can't force our children to eat but we can decide the what, when & where in regards to food.

Kids want foods that look good and taste good too. Having fresh fruit available at all times for snacks or provide cut up vegetables and a low fat dip can encourage kids to eat healthy on-the-go foods. Children are often not interested in good food because it is not as sweet or as high in fat as the "junk" food they often prefer. Providing sweeter vegetables can also help. Try cooking carrots with crushed pineapple or add minced apples or pineapple to coleslaw. Apples, raisins, orange juice, cinnamon and nutmeg are also a sweet addition to yams and sweet potatoes. Here are a few more simple ways to cut down the sugar and fat content in your child's diet:

1- Substitute soda with 100% fruit juice.

2- If you must buy frosted and sugared cold cereal buy products with less than 6 grams of sugar per serving or consider mixing it with a plain variety of the same shape and style. Raisins could also be added to plain wholegrain cereals as a natural sweetener.

3- When buying canned fruit buy it packed in water instead of syrup. Purchase tuna packed in water instead of oil.

4- Buy wheat bread and even wheat donuts.

5- Suggest butter or syrup on pancakes and waffles but not both.

6- Top main menu dishes with mozzarella cheese instead of cheddar to cut down on fat.

IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT THE FOOD

It helps me to remember that the importance of a meal together as a family is not all about the food! Family mealtime teaches kids how to express displeasure about a meal they do not like and provides opportunities to teach good social graces and table manners. But it also is a great setting for helping your children understand that their feelings and opinions matter as they take turns sharing their important news and happenings of the day. John Doran adds, "A good dinner sharpens wit, while it softens the heart".



Mealtime is the perfect opportunity to get to know your children better. Parents should know what their children like to do in their spare time, what their most prized possession is. Who is your child's closest friend? What do they want to be when they grow up? If you do not know the answer to these questions for each of your children start making mealtime conversation more focused on your child.

FOOD AND FUN

Kids will look forward to meals as a family activity instead of merely another dinner when some fun is added once a month. Here are 10 creative mealtime activities you can try. If you run out of idea's there is a book by Randall Wright, "Building Better Homes and Families" that lists at least 30 more!

1) Let the kids be the waiters and waitress seating each family member, reading them the menu, serving and clearing the table.

2) Pre-school age children enjoy having dinner focus on the color they are learning. Choose the same colored food from all the food-groups. Don't forget the matching drink!

3) Eat by candlelight or let each child put a flashlight above their plate and eat with the lights out.

4) Hide a note to each child in their portion of food for them to find.

5) Let everyone choose their eating utensil from a sack, no forks to choose from only spatulas, ice cream scoop, turkey baster or other unusual kitchen items.

6) Older kids will enjoy the challenge of eating with the wrong hand. Use a dishrag to tie their wrist to the wrist of the person sitting next to them!

7) Grab a big vinyl wipe-and-wash tablecloth and your plates and eat in a different room of the house or even outside in the neighborhood for variety!

8) My father once surprised my grandmother at a birthday dinner by having her place setting different from the rest of the table. Her cup and plate was bright red! If my 92-year-old grandma is thrilled by the gesture, your kids will be too!

9) Surprise everyone by turning dinner into breakfast! One of our favorite family meals is to eat breakfast food for dinner. I like to make extra so that we can eat the leftovers the next morning.

10) Make the meal a cultural activity with clothing, food, music and decorations that depict that country.

Evaluate your family mealtime and decide if you are getting the most out of the mealtime opportunity to teach positive nutritional attitudes, get to know your child better and make fun family memories.

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