As a parent, the most natural reflex is to protect your child. So if you knew you could help your child decrease their risk for serious health issues such as obesity, asthma, heart disease, diabetes and joint issues, wouldn’t you?
Curbing these risks is within your control. And the earlier you start teaching youngsters healthy habits, the easier it will be for them to stay on the right path for lifelong health and wellness.
September is “Fruits & Veggies – More Matters Month,” the perfect time to focus on helping children learn about nutrition and how food affects their bodies. Young children might not understand the difference between carbohydrates and proteins or exactly what vitamins and minerals do, but they can understand that more fruits and vegetables – and less sugar, candy and cookies – will help to keep their bodies healthy.
How can you get started? Come at it from the child’s perspective – make it fun. Here are a few ideas:
• For younger children, help kids “paint a colorful plate” by adding a variety of fruits and vegetables at mealtime. Red apples, green grapes, orange baby carrots, yellow pineapple and blueberries can make any plate a delicious rainbow of nutrition.
• Try a few of these recipes when the kids come home from school to add more fruits and vegetables at snack time:
“Ants on a Log:” Spread celery with peanut butter or cream cheese and sprinkle with raisins.
“Snack kabobs:” Put cubes of low-fat cheese and grapes on pretzel sticks.
“Banana Split:” Top a banana with low-fat vanilla and strawberry frozen yogurt. Sprinkle with your favorite whole-grain cereal.
• Children as young as 6 can easily understand the “MyPlate” dietary guidelines, which have replaced the Food Pyramid. Visit www.choosemyplate.gov for more information, then talk to your kids about why it’s important to eat more fruits and vegetables.
• Get older kids involved in making the grocery list and shopping for food. Fruits and vegetables are great for taking to school in a lunchbox; ask your kids to pick out some apples, bananas, grapes or carrots when grocery shopping.
• Helping to select and cook meals gives children a sense of ownership. They can participate by picking vegetables for a meal or making a salad. Also, keep a healthy recipe book in the kitchen. Encourage your child to pick a recipe that includes fruits or vegetables they haven’t tried before. You’ll be imparting a valuable life skill.
• The fall is a great time to visit area farms and orchards. You and your children can see, touch, taste, smell and learn about nutritious, locally grown food. Plus, buying what’s in season is not only fresher, it’s usually cheaper.
• While it’s not always possible with busy schedules, eat together as often as possible at the table. Avoid eating in front of the television. And plan what you will eat, and when, to ensure that your child is getting enough fruits and vegetables.
• Finally, rather than lecturing children about bad eating habits, encourage healthy eating. Do not reward, bribe or punish your child with food. When adults use food to reward or punish, they may be teaching the child to become an emotional eater.
Because we believe in keeping children healthy and safe, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield offers free information on children’s wellness. Visit www.bcnepa.com/Wellness/Childrens.aspx for additional resources on healthy eating.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Adding more fruits and vegetables to daily meals and snack time can help your child avoid becoming a statistic, and will teach them sound eating habits that will last a lifetime.
Daelene Long is senior director of clinical operations for Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.