Good nutrition can be a contributing factor to a healthy lifestyle, which may reduce medical problems later in life. So, it’s important to talk to your children about this early in their lives.
Manisha Vaidya, MS, RD, LD, a clinical dietitian with UAB Medicine Food and Nutrition Services, shares some suggestions below on how to have more meaningful conversations and positive experiences with your children about nutrition.
Set an Example
“For children, you have to set an example and be a role model for them,” Vaidya says. “You need to really focus on what you are doing in front of them.” Whether you are a parent, relative, coach, or caregiver, it’s important to remember that children look up to adults for words, actions, and choices.
Reward without Food
“I always focus on a reward of giving them something of substance” Vaidya says. “Food itself should not be a reward.” Instead of rewarding a good report card or other achievement with the allure of a sweet treat, she recommends a few alternatives that have been fun and successful for her own children:
- Outdoor picnic with friends
- Family game night
- A new book
Let Them Shop
When grocery shopping, let your children become an active part of the trip. In most grocery stores, fresh produce, dairy, and meats are found around the perimeter of the stores, while the more processed and prepackaged foods tend to be in the center aisles. Make your children aware of this placement and encourage them to pick out their favorite fruit or vegetable, or even a new one.
Letting children have a bit of responsibility can build their self-confidence in their decision-making skills as they grow older. These grocery store outings may occur in childhood, but the lessons learned can be carried well into adulthood.
Preparation and Portion Sizes
“Food is not a bad thing. How much you eat and how you prepare it can be really important,” Vaidya says.
Vaidya believes that food shouldn’t have a good or bad label associated with it. It’s okay to have a dessert occasionally, but it isn’t necessary after every meal. She suggests MyPlate.gov as an excellent resource to better visualize how different food groups can be represented on a plate.
Make Education Fun
It is important to educate children on different cultures and their common dietary preferences. These conversations may create opportunities to try new foods or build deeper connections with others in our community. Local markets are a great way to support small businesses while also learning about local farmers and how their produce gets to our tables.
Teaching children about food choices and the impact nutrition has on our bodies is not a one-and-done lesson. By encouraging balance and a curiosity to learn about nutrition, children can be better equipped to make healthy lifestyle choices as they grow.
Visit uabmedicine.org for more information on improving your health and treating disease.