Friday, February 22, 2008

Raising Healthy Children: Feeding Your Kids Healthy Snacks & Modeling Healthy Patterns

Everyone is aware of the alarming statistics of childhood obesity and unhealthy eating and lifestyle habits being exhibited by our children. Yesterday I had a routine doctor's appointment and in the waiting room, there was a video that announced that our children today- ages birth to 16yrs of age- will not surpass the age of death of their parent's generation. Despite major advances in medical technology and modern medicine- obesity is the leading cause of death and will be the leading factor and root cause of death in our children today. According to this video- very much to blame are the abundance of sodas, fast food, processed food and a very sedentary lifestyle.

I can imagine it must be very tough to be a parent in today's world- most mom's and dad's work and the ritual of eating dinner together is a thing of the past with busy family schedules.

Raising Healthy Kids: What Parents Can Do

Researchers have found...

arrowWhen both parents are physically active, the child is six times more likely to be physically active.

arrowIf one parent habitually eats high fat food, the child is twice as likely to be overweight.

arrowIf both parents eat high fat foods, the child is three to six times more likely to be overweight.

Communities Raise Healthy Kids: What Communities Can Do

A growing problem in many communities is a lack of sidewalks, parks, biking trails, and community-sponsored recreation. Access to community gardens, farmers' markets, and healthy vending or concession options also is limited. Urban sprawl -- including planned communities, superhighways, and super-shopping centers -- has contributed to this problem. Communities can benefit by examining their infrastructures and working to provide a safe environment that promotes physical activity and access to healthy food options.

Minimizing Unhealthy Dietary Choices

As parents and the caregiver in the family, you are the primary individuals spending your money on grocery shopping and buying the family's meals. It is essential for parents to demonstrate and model the most appropriate and acceptable lifestyle and dietary choices. Healthy fruits, vegetables and "snacky" foods must be available for kids. Avoiding processed foods and high sugar, high fat foods is essential to keep in mind when shopping.

Snacking is a huge source of children's poor diet choices. It is key for parents to involve their children in this integral part of their health.

Here's a guide to healthy snacking with your kids health and taste buds in mind.

1. Read the ingredient list. Words like hydrogenated oil, high fructose corn syrup and "enriched" signify harmful fats and empty calories. And if you can't pronounce the main ingredients on the list, the snack product is probably best left on the shelf.

If a snack is providing 25 percent of a child’s total calories, parents should aim for no more than 600 mg of sodium and between 10 and 15 grams of fat per snack. Sugar is tough because nutrition labels don’t distinguish between naturally occurring sugar and added sugar. You don't want to restrict sugar from whole fruits, veggies or skim or low-fat milk. For sugar, scan the ingredient list and steer clear of snacks with high fructose corn syrup in the first few ingredients.

2. Look for snacks that are high in fiber. "Kids aren't getting enough fiber," says Giancoli. "We’re so used to eating refined carbohydrate products, which are stripped of important nutrients."

Seek out foods with whole grain -- switch from regular pasta to whole wheat, for example. And if your kids turn up their noses, try mixing whole wheat pasta with regular for a smoother transition.

3. Pay attention to serving sizes. Many jumbo chip bags have between three and five servings in one bag -- which can really add up. Look for single snack servings that have between 100 and 200 calories to keep calorie counts and fat grams in check.

4. Offer healthy choices to your kids. And don't give up if they turn food away on the first try. "It might take 10 to 15 times for a kid to try a certain food," says Giancoli. "But if you give up, that demonizes the food for them." And they'll never eat it again -- at least not until they're adults!

Healthy Snack Ideas:

Trail mix. Help kids make their own custom trail mix, advises Mary Friesz, a registered dietitian in Boca Raton, Fla., and author of Food, Fun ‘n Fitness: Designing Healthy Lifestyles for Our Children. Set out raisins, sunflower seeds, nuts (unless you’ll be in a nut-free zone), roasted soy nuts and dried fruit and let the kids scoop ¼ to 1/3 of a cup of their own combo into small bags. Pop in the freezer or fridge to keep fresh, and grab when you’re on the go.

Fruit, veggies and dip. “Most kids love to dip their food, so take advantage of it!” says Mairlyn Smith, a Toronto, Ont., home economist and co-author of The Ultimate Healthy Eating Plan (Whitecap). Mix a bit of cinnamon into French vanilla yogurt and dip fruit into it. Another dip idea: mix low-fat plain yogurt with a bit of regular ranch dressing for lots of flavor without a lot of fat.

Smoothies. Whirl low-fat yogurt, fruit and ice in the blender to create one-of-a-kind – and yummy! Or stir a teaspoon or two of chocolate drink mix into a tall frosty glass of one per cent milk.

Roll-ups.“Turkey or chicken ‘cigars’ were a big hit with my son when he was growing up,” says Smith. Just roll up a thin slice of roasted luncheon meat, such as turkey or chicken, and enjoy. Add a smear of mustard if you want. Or, spread a small whole-wheat tortilla with peanut butter or light cream cheese, roll and slice.

Store-bought picks. Even if you’re pushed for time, you can still make healthy choices. Smith suggests small yogurt cups or lower-fat round cheeses like Baby Bel. Friesz likes the occasional package of “cheese strings,” baked chips and salsa or bean dip, or a small cup of lentil soup. And nothing is easier or more portable than a few whole-grain crackers, pre-washed baby carrots or a piece of fruit!

Smart Snacking Tips
  • Kids begging for the prepackaged cheese, crackers and lunch meat? Make your own healthier version. Pick up a few reusable containers with dividers, and add fruit, veggies, cheese, whole grain crackers and other good stuff. Add a frozen container of milk, water or 100 per cent fruit juice to keep things cool until snack time.
  • “Make healthy snacks visible,” advises Friesz. Cut up fruit and veggies ahead of time and put them front and center in the fridge. And make a habit of saying “look in the fridge” first (rather than the cupboard where the sweet stuff likely lives).
  • “Jazzy names work well,” notes Smith, who found that lunch meat "cigars" were popular in her household. “Ants on a log” – celery spread with peanut butter or low-fat cream cheese and topped with raisins – are good too, says Friesz.


Have a question about children and healthy diets and wellness programs?

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For a free health consultation feel free to email ( or call
Melissa Gallagher at 727-954-8968.

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