woman in kitchen with child

Healthy Eating for Families

March is National Nutrition Month–a time to shed some light on our food choices and how we can develop some sound eating and physical activity habits. Health professionals seem to agree that American families desperately need both of them. In fact, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly 21% of adolescents are considered obese, and over 17% of kids ages 6-11 are. This is a number that has continued to rise, despite the health problems that obesity can lead to.

“With so many processed and convenience foods available, so many families have lost sight of the connection between food and health. While many of these foods seem to fit in our busy schedule they may be setting us up for chronic diseases later on. Diet-related diseases like coronary artery disease often start in early childhood,” says Dr. Nimali Fernando, a Fredericksburg, Virginia-based pediatrician who founded The Doctor Yum Project, a nonprofit organization that advocates for better nutrition. “It’s important for families to make their health a priority through healthy eating and being physically active. Parents hold the key to making this happen, by being role models providing a culture of wellness in the home.”

One major problem that is plaguing kids today is the amount of added sugar that they are consuming. The CDC reports that Americans are consuming too much sugar, which can lead to health problems such as weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. They estimate that two- to nineteen-year-olds are consuming an average of 16% of their daily calories from “added sugars” (sugars and syrups that have been added to foods and beverages when they are prepared).

In addition to cutting back on the added sugar, there are numerous other ways that parents can help create healthy family habits, including:

Spend more time cooking at home, rather than dining out or grabbing fast food. Food prepared at restaurants is often loaded with added sugars, fats, and sodium. Parents can help teach healthy habits by getting kids in the kitchen to help prepare the meals. Using Doctor Yum’s free Meal Maker Machine on www.doctoryum.org, families can quickly create custom healthy recipes, using ingredients they already have on hand.

Offer kids a variety of healthy foods, so they taste many things and get the benefits of different nutrients. Take kids to the farmers market or produce department and every week let them pick out one thing they’d like to try. Keep in mind that multiple exposures to a new food can help kids enjoy a food they may not like at first (this is true for adults too!) Using Doctor Yum’s Meal Maker Machine is an easy way to use a new ingredient in different ways and prevent food waste.

Load up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy sources of protein. Keeping a bowl filled with fresh fruit on the counter or a tray of veggies in the fridge is a great way to encourage kids snack better.