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Playground Equipment Blog
Friday, June 15, 2018

Kids' Nutrition: Eating Healthy for Mental and Physical Development


Getting kids to eat healthfully can be a handful, especially during the summer months when it seems like ice cream trucks are parked at every corner. But hot-weather treats aside, parents know that childhood food issues vary wildly. While some parents end up pleading with picky eaters to finish what’s on their plates, others find themselves carefully monitoring their kids’ sugar and junk food intake, hoping to help children establish reasonable eating habits.

And then, there’s our instant gratification culture. Schools feature candy-filled vending machines, and fast food ads play on a loop on TV; truly, youth are bombarded with chances to eat high-calorie, low-nutrient options at every turn.

Studies show that nutrition has a profound impact on learning, cognitive ability, and physical health, making healthy eating a cornerstone of child development. So, it’s vital that kids get proper nutrition and create healthy habits.

How can you make eating nutritious food fun, easy, and sustainable? Read on for ideas!

1. Make Your Kids’ Favorite Produce a Priority

As Michael Pollan distilled in his wildly popular book on nutrition, Omnivore’s Dilemma: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.” Pollan says in this video:

“The key issue is whether you’re eating real food, or, as I like to call it, ‘edible food-like substances,’ which is processed food.”

Kids don’t usually need to watch their (healthy) calories. They’re still growing, after all! But Pollan is right about one thing: kids benefit from eating a diet of mostly unprocessed, perishable foods, with lots of fruits and vegetables. In fact, studies show that populations that consume an abundance of produce, and limit their intake of animal products, tend to have better long-term health outcomes and longevity.

So, how do you get kids to eat their produce? Variety. By introducing children to lots of different fruits and veggies, they’ll be more likely to find varieties they enjoy. So, if your kid absolutely hates broccoli, nix it and try grilled asparagus, green peppers, or celery with peanut butter instead. Can’t get your child to finish their apple? Bust out banana slices, mangoes, or blueberries. And remember: tastes change. Just because she doesn’t like mushrooms now, doesn’t mean she’ll always hate them.


2. Eating for Sustained Energy

According to cdc.gov, “Hunger and food insecurity might increase the risk for lower dietary quality and undernutrition. In turn, undernutrition can negatively affect overall health, cognitive development, and school performance.”

And, although it’s counter-intuitive, kids can be both overweight and malnourished, depending on the type of food they’re eating. According to Health.gov, a healthy diet for kids should include: a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or natural dairy products, a variety of protein--either animal or plant-based--healthy oils, and limited saturated fat and sodium intake. The highest nutrient-dense foods are fruits and vegetables. If you can’t afford to shop organic, be sure to watch your produce thoroughly and look for produce that’s in season and locally-grown.

And if you’re concerned about your kids’ calorie intake needs, this handy article from Mayo Clinic is a good resource. It outlines different calorie needs depending on age and activity level.

3. Have Healthy Snacks Handy

Heading to the playground? Pack a bag of healthy snacks to curb those mid-play cravings, keep kids energized, and avoid the fast food drive-thru on the way home. It’s a good idea to bring a snack that provides a healthy mix of carbs, healthy fats, and protein. For example, mix a bag of whole-wheat pretzels, cheese cubes, and grapes. Or, pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on whole wheat, and add some baby carrots to the mix. The combination creates a complete protein and a nutritionally-balanced meal.

Honestly, eating healthy doesn’t have to require lots of time and planning. With a little bit of mindfulness, some light meal prep, and a trip to the grocery, eating healthy can be affordable and simple. And if you’re super strapped for time, some grocery stores offer curbside pick up.

4. Model Mindful Eating

Kids are sponges, watching and imitating our behavior. So, if you eat healthy foods and make it a normal part of everyday life, they’ll be more likely to fill up on whole foods and crave delicious, healthy produce like bananas, tomatoes, colorful salads, and complex carbs such as rice and whole-wheat pasta.

What are your tips for getting kids to eat healthy? Leave your comments below!

Written by: Parker Jones

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