Improve diet and health without making food an issue

April 16, 2013|Lynn Little

It is important to help young people make the connection between food, nutrition, energy and health. Nutrition education is one key to reducing obesity and it is beneficial for a family to learn together. Here are some tips:

  Take the time to read food labels and learn more about what you are eating and recommended serving sizes (also called portions).

 Serve a variety of foods, but introduce change gradually. Kids might be unhappy if parents eliminate all of the family's favorite snack foods in one fell swoop.

  Model healthful eating, but don't make food an issue. If kids turn up their noses at a new vegetable, wait a few weeks and offer it again, perhaps in a different form such as part of a veggie combo or stir-fry one-dish meal.

  Plan snacks to supplement meals and make them available.

 Make it easy for children to choose health-promoting foods. Kids like finger foods and will choose precut fruits and vegetables and a low-fat dip when they are readily available.

 Pre-packaged single servings are pleasing to children and helpful in teaching and practicing portion control. Single servings might cost more, but buying in bulk and measuring servings into reusable food storage containers will trim the cost. Fruit and vegetable snacks — an apple, orange, banana, carrot or stalk of celery — are natural single servings.

  Schedule regular meals. If children know that food will be available, they might be less likely to overdo snacks.

 Eat at home to trim calories and fat, reduce sodium intake and lower overall food cost. Whether from scratch or speed-scratch, in which convenience foods are combined with ingredients on hand to save time cooking, food prepared at home usually costs less than similar foods served at a restaurant. Cooking as a family can be creative, fun and also a boost to self-confidence. Cooks at any age typically take pride in saying "I made this." Visit and click on "cooking class" for healthy cooking ideas.

 Serve milk or water with meals and limit carbonated or other high-calorie beverages that offer little, if any, nutritional value for an occasional treat.

  Learn to bank calories for special occasions. Allowing yourself an occasional treat that is higher in calories and fat than foods normally consumed can be part of a healthy eating plan. If you consume more calories and fat one day, adjust eating to balance food choices, calories and nutrition over the next day or two.

 Trust children, who are learning to make healthy food choices at home, to make the same or similar choices away from home. Once children, teens and people at any age, for that matter, begin choosing foods that contribute to health, they are likely to experience a greater sense of wellbeing. They might have more energy; be more alert in school or on the job; or have a healthier weight.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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