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Helping Children Develop Healthy Eating Habits
Jessica Bennett, Dietician with Vanderbilt Nutrition Clinic, talks with Stacey Bonner of the Vanderbilt Child and Family Center, and gives some suggestions on healthy snacks to keep in the home, why is it important to limit portion size and getting your child involved in the meal preparation.
Stacey Bonner: Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt University Health and Wellness Wellcast. I am Stacey Bonner with the Child and Family Center. Developing healthy eating habits in children is important. Jessica Bennett, dietitian with Vanderbilt Nutrition Clinic, has joined me in discussing ways to help children develop healthy eating habits. Jessica, how can a parent help their child develop healthy eating habits?
Jessica Bennett: Setting a great example is key. Kids will follow your lead. So, if you get excited about trying new fruits and vegetables, your kids will be excited about trying them too. If you are sitting there thinking that green beans are the worst thing on the planet, they are going to say it, and you will hear it for the rest of their lives, and so, it is very important to get excited about it and to set a good example. If they see you choosing that apple instead of the chips for a snack, they are going to want to follow your lead.
Stacey Bonner: How can a parent get a picky child to enjoy a wider variety of foods?
Jessica Bennett: You’ve got to make it fun. You can rename foods. You can cut them in fun shapes, even putting them in a neat bowl, get them involved in the kitchen trying new foods. You can even incorporate healthier foods into some unhealthy foods that they love, like pizza or pastas or macaroni and cheese.
Stacey Bonner: Just incorporating some of the stuff they already enjoy eating. So, maybe for pizza, putting pineapples on them and things like that?
Jessica Bennett: Exactly, or especially, like mushrooms you can chop them up and then put them into taco meat. They will never even know they are in there or soups, pasta, sauces , things like that, great in smoothies, too. .
Stacey Bonner: My child loves to snack. Do you have some suggestions on just healthy snacks to keep in the home?
Jessica Bennett: What child does not love to snack? It is important to make sure that you have healthy snacks available that are going to actually help keep them full. So, when they grab that bag of chips or that 100‑calorie pack, even if it is a good portion size, it is still not going to keep them full like an apple or something high in fiber would . Fruits and vegetables make great snacks and you can put peanut butter with trail mix on top of them or different fruits, even fat-free cream cheese, Greek yogurt. You can make fun dips. Hummus is a great thing to get kids involved with to try. You can make a bake potato bar with low-fat cheese and salsa and Greek yogurt, and they can top it, or you could even do different smoothies. Kids love to throw different fruits and vegetables and see the colors change in the smoothies. If you want to do some prepackage snacks, it is important to work on portion sizes with kids and make sure they just get like a handful and then if they are still hungry, go back for a fruit or a vegetable.
Stacey Bonner: You just mentioned something about portion sizes, so why is it important to limit the portion sizes?
Jessica Bennett: So, a lot of kids love to snack like we talked about before, and it kind of turns into a grazing atmosphere where they have lots of snacks before dinner, they are not very hungry to actually eat their dinner, and then it makes that so they are not eating as much variety of foods if they are just eating chips and crackers when they get home and then they do not want to eat their vegetables at dinner or their protein sources. So, it is important to work on portion sizes, especially, of snacks. And you want to make sure they are actually hungry for their meal. So for those, you can even use smaller cups or bowls to put foods in. I always tell kids never eat anything out of the box or the bag it came in, they will automatically eat more. Take it out, put it on a bowl. Don’t eat snacks while watching TV or playing with your Kindle or on the computer. Again, you will automatically eat more.
Stacey Bonner: When picking your child up from school, is this a good time to have a healthy snack in the vehicle?
Jessica Bennett: Uh huh. Especially, if you are on the way to like a practice or something like that, it is important for them to have a snack. What we don’t want to see happen though is having that snack in the car and then another snack when they get home, then that just goes feeds into that mindless eating, like while you are diving and things like that, but especially, if they are on the way to practice or something like that, it is important for them to have a healthy snack. We say the original fast food was fruit, so grab it and go.
Stacey Bonner: How key is to get your child involved in the meal preparation?
Jessica Bennett: It is so key if you want to get them to try new foods. We know that kids get excited when they are involved in the kitchen. They are more likely to try the foods if they were involved in the cooking process. Even having them pick out a new recipe or take them to the grocery store and have them pick out a new fruit or a vegetable. You can even take them to a farmer’s market where they can interact with some of the farmers or to a farm, and they can pick out new produce , see where it comes from, and they will get more excited about trying it. Even eating the rainbow having them pick out different colors that they want to try or what colors they want to add to their plate that night. If it is age-appropriate, getting them involved in the cutting, peeling, washing all of that is great to you.
Stacey Bonner: Those are some great tips, Jessica, thank you.
Jessica Bennett: Thank you.
Stacey Bonner: Thanks for listening. Please feel free to leave us any comments on this Wellcast by clicking the “Add New Comment” link at the bottom of this page. If you have a story suggestion, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can use the “Contact Us” link on our website at healthandwellness.vanderbilt.edu.
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