Add fun, hide veggies for kids' meals Getting kids to eat healthy takes some tricks and trades

Posted: Sunday, November 07, 2004


  Photo provided by Morris News Service It can be tricky for parents to fend off junk food in favor of healthy snacks in a child's diet. Photo provided by Morris News Se

Photo provided by Morris News Service It can be tricky for parents to fend off junk food in favor of healthy snacks in a child's diet.

Photo provided by Morris News Se

LUBBOCK, Texas Getting kids to eat nutritious food can be an all-out war.

Ask dietitians, and they can tell you that fast food, along with easily available junk food, not only isn't helping the situation, but also is causing major obesity problems with American children.

Busy lifestyles hurt the issue further, as fewer parents have time to cook nutritious meals or prepare snacks.

Getting children to eat healthful food may seem tricky, but it's important for parents to work hard at it, said Margie Kitten, pediatric dietitian at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

"Because kids are growing, their nutrition needs are greater than adults," she said. "Because they are growing, it's important to have nutrient-rich foods available. They do require snacks."

When it comes to snack time, people often buy easy-access food such as chips or other empty calorie food because it comes prepared. This is one situation in which parents can limit their children's intake of junk foods, Kitten said.

That's why parents should take time out the night before to make a healthful snack that children can tear into right after school, she said. If carrots and dip are ready to go sitting on an easily accessible shelf in the refrigerator, and if children are hungry, they'll eat it.

"People will often talk about how that junk food is cheaper and more readily available," Kitten said. "That's one reason why we have a lot of it in our diets today. But, they need to change the family's eating habits. If you don't purchase it, and all the money is going toward nutritious food, you're getting more for your money anyway."

Try the alternatives just as tasty and better for your children.

Children love to help their parents do adult activities, such as shop and cook, Kitten said. Parents can use this to their advantage.

"Including kids in healthy choices when you take a child to the supermarket is a good idea," she said. "If they have ownership of food, they'll be more prone to eat it. Or if you can get them to help you to prepare it, that's good. Snacks are vital to a child's nutrition, and the best thing you can give them is fresh fruits and vegetables."

If that doesn't work, hide the nutritious food, said Natasha Reagan, director of operations at Aramark School Support Services, which supplies meals to Lubbock Independent School District.

"I have some tricks," Reagan said. "One of my favorites is any tomato-based meal, such as spaghetti or lasagna, I like to blend up carrots and put that in the sauce. They're eating their vegetables, and they don't even know it. You can do it with just about any vegetable."

Also, parents should push children to drink plenty of milk and plenty of water, Reagan said.

One of the most confusing things these days is determining portion sizes, she said.

Because restaurants heap food onto their entrees, people have lost touch with appropriate portions.

That could mean trouble if parents are making children eat everything on their plates.

Usually, it's a better idea to let children serve the food on their plate, since they're more in tune with what they can eat.

"Portion size is probably the No. 1 reason for obesity in America," Reagan said. "Even with McDonald's. Their portion sizes in the '70s compared to their portion sizes now is different. Our portion sizes are huge compared to portion servings in the rest of the world."

Another important factor to include in food is fun, said Cindy Banta, clinical nutrition manager for Covenant Health System.

"I think the best way is to make it a variety of food and to make it fun," Banta said. "We're all in such a hurry, we forget that kids might want to eat differently. If you make a sandwich for lunch, cut it out with a cookie cutter."

Forcing children to eat foods they don't like isn't a good idea, either, she said.

"It doesn't have to be what we eat, like a casserole," Banta said. "Kids like food they can identify. If they don't like that casserole, they can have a yogurt or something else."

Above all, parents set the standards for children's eating habits.

"Parents need to set an example of what they eat," she said. "If you teach them to eat well as little children, a lot of times, they'll grow up liking good foods.

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