Teaching nutritional values at an early age pays lifelong dividends

August 29, 2018
Floyd Valley Health Care registered licensed dietitian Janet Kehm said fresh fruit makes for excellent and portable snack options for both kids and their parents.

LE MARS, Iowa -- Having three square meals a day is essential for families, especially since the school year has begun.

“We must make family mealtimes a priority,” Floyd Valley Health Care registered licensed dietitian Janet Kehm explained. “Nutrition should always be a priority.”

This is true since kids often follow the example set by their parents.

“Parents can play a big role in a child’s nutritional health,” Kehm said. “The lessons that children learn today will follow them for the rest of their lives.”

That’s why the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has declared August as Kids Eat Right Month.

By focusing on the importance of healthful eating and active lifestyles, the academy is encouraging families to take the following steps:

Shop smart. As a way to encourage a healthy lifestyle, parents can get kids involved in selecting the food that will appear at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Cook healthy. Involve kids in cutting, mixing and preparing food as a way to stimulate their appetites and imaginations.

Eat right. Families that eat together at a dinner table often form stronger bonds. Also, research shows that children who participate in family mealtimes also perform better in school.

Healthy habits. Families can get into the habit of filling half of their plates with fruits and veggies, choosing lower sodium options and choosing water or fat-free milks over sugary drinks.

Combining everything with a regular routine of physical activity will make a healthy lifestyle attainable over time, Kehm said.

But what about snack time, which is a downfall for many kids? She said the principles set by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics still apply.

“A good way to start is to talk to your children,” Kehm said. “Learn the foods they like and which foods they will need for their growing bodies.”

This can start at a very early age.

“By taking kids grocery shopping, you’re giving them a role in the decision-making process,” Kehm said.

Similarly, having kids help out in the kitchen gives them pride and ownership in family mealtime.

“That works for snack time as well,” Kehm said. “Snacks should simply be something small that will tide you over until mealtime,” Kehm said.

For instance, a snack can consist of a granola bar, trail mix or fresh fruit and veggies along with a healthy dip.

Older children might be able to make themselves a pita pizza, a quesadilla or an omelet.

“A snack shouldn’t be a bag of chips or a candy bar or something sugary,” Kehm said. “That just represents empty calories and contributes nothing to a person’s well-being.”

It’s becoming increasingly important since both parents and kids lead such busy lives.

“We must make nutrition a priority,” Kehm said. “The healthier we eat, the healthier we feel.”

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