Doctor’s Tip: We know what our kids should eat — how can we get them to do it?
“The secret to feeding a healthy family is to love good food, trust yourself, and share that love and trust with your child,” said Ellyn Satter in “Nourish.”
This is another column in a series based on the book “Nourish, The Definitive Plant-Based Nutrition Guide for Families,” by Shah and Davis. Previously we covered macronutrients and micronutrients.
“Nourish” notes that “dietary patterns that emphasize whole plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds are strongly associated with increased health and longevity.” “Health” refers to both childhood and adulthood. For example, the incidence of diet-related diseases — such as obesity, hypertension and type 2 diabetes — is increasing in children. Regarding adulthood, children who learn healthy eating patterns are apt to continue them into adulthood, thereby avoiding the chronic diseases that so many American adults suffer and die from.
Most parents know that their kids should eat more veggies, fruit and unrefined carbohydrates, yet only 2% of American children (0.9% of teenagers) eat the recommended amount of vegetables, and the percentage of kids eating the recommended amount of fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds is similarly low.
Following are some general suggestions about what you can do about this in your own family: 1) Set a good example — children who see their parents eating healthful food are more apt to do so themselves. 2) Leave healthy foods such as fruit, hummus, nuts, seeds and carrot slices out where kids have easy access to them; 3) Keep unhealthy food out of the house, including products that are marketed for kids, such as cereal in a box and crackers like Gold Fish — these are almost always processed and contain salt, sugar and unhealthy oils. 4) When eating out, avoid fast food outlets — choose restaurants with healthy options. Do not order “kids’ meals” in restaurants, which are almost always unhealthy. 5) Starting at a young age, expose your child to a variety of healthy foods — often repeated exposure is necessary. 6) Eat together as a family, and make meal times enjoyable.
A few age-specific tips in “Nourish” are listed below:
•INFANTS should be fed on demand. When solids are introduced at 6 months, including different flavors and textures (not salt or sugar, though) will help avoid future picky eaters.
•OLDER BABIES should ideally be given a variety of salt- and sugar-free foods that they can’t choke on. It’s best that you make baby food yourself from scratch (commercial baby foods are often unhealthy).
•TODDLERS (1-3 years): Children have small stomachs, and in addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, they need healthy mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks. Consider snacks from all the food groups — veggies, fruit, grains, nuts and seeds (nut and seed butters for younger children). Keep in mind that during the second half of the first year up until puberty, children’s growth velocity naturally slows down, and their appetite can vary from day to day.
•CHILDREN (4 TO 12 YEARS): Talk about how a food is grown and where it comes from. Take your child grocery shopping, and let them participate in deciding what to buy. Let them help you cook. Add fruit and veggies to smoothies or as puree in soups, add to spaghetti sauce, and use fruit in pancakes and desserts. Use carrots, beets or zucchini in muffins. Make food into fun shapes using a specialty vegetable cutter.
•ADOLESCENTS (13-18): Don’t be overly-controlling. Realize you can’t control what your child eats all the time or forever. Often “plant-predominant” rather than 100% “plant-based” is perfectly fine. Children this age should be involved in discussions about how what we eat affects the planet; how eating at the top of the food chain (animal products, including seafood) causes higher blood levels of environmental toxins such as pesticides, heavy metals and PCBs; and about the animal cruelty associated with factory farming. If your child is into sports, have them watch the documentary “The Game Changer,” about athletes who have gone plant-based because it enhances their performance.
“Nourish” says that the following approaches to childhood nutrition do not work: 1) pressure statements such as “eat your peas;” 2) incentives/rewards/negotiations such as “eat your veggies and then you can have a cookie;” 3) praise such as “what a good boy for eating all your lunch;” and 4) being overly restrictive about unhealthy food.
“Nourish” is a must-have for parents. Children don’t come with instruction manuals, but this book is as close as you can get when it comes to childhood nutrition.
Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with special interest in disease prevention and reversal through nutrition. Free services through Center For Prevention and The People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shop-with-a-doc at Carbondale City Market and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for appointment or email email@example.com.
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