What is nutrition?
Nutrition refers to everything that your child eats and drinks. Your child’s body uses nutrients from food to function properly and stay healthy. Nutrients include carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. In the right amounts, these nutrients give your child energy to grow, learn and be active. Your child’s body stores what isn’t needed right away for energy as body fat.
Why is proper nutrition important?
Poor nutrition can cause health problems, overweight and obesity. Some of the health problems associated with poor nutrition can be serious and even life threatening, especially as your child grows into an adolescent and moves into adulthood. By helping your child learn healthy eating habits, you can help prevent these health problems.
Avoiding weight problems now has multiple benefits for your child. First, it’s so much easier to maintain a healthy weight than it is to lose weight. And children who maintain a healthy weight during childhood are more likely to stay at a healthy weight as adults.
Can I really make a difference?
Yes! Choosing healthy foods and being physically active may not come naturally to everyone. But, like just about anything, these healthy choices can be learned and become a habit. As a parent or caregiver, you are a role model and have the ability to influence your child’s environment. Even small changes in your family’s eating and exercise habits can have a big impact on your child’s health.
The upside of good nutrition in childhood
- Healthy weight for height
- Mental well being—feeling good
- Clear thinking and school performance
- Strong bones and muscles
- Good energy level
- Ability to fight off sickness or disease
- Healthy healing of wounds
- Easy recovery from illness or injury
- Reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancers and bone diseases such as osteoporosis in the future
How can I help my child choose healthy foods?
Start by making sure you have healthy, appealing food options available for your child, and engage your child in the process. At the store, let your child choose fruits and vegetables that he or she enjoys eating. Encourage your child to try new things. Point out colorful options to appeal to sight, crunchy or smooth options to appeal to texture, and be sure to include a good variety so your child can try different things.
See below for some basic guidelines. Be sure to check with your family doctor to find out what is right for your child’s specific needs.
- Offer several fruit and vegetable options every day.
- Don’t feel bad if you can’t always find fresh fruits and vegetables. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are good options, too.
- If you choose canned fruits, look for those that are canned in their own juices or light syrup as opposed to heavy syrup.
- Provide healthy sources of protein, such as fish, eggs, nuts and lean meats like chicken and turkey.
- Serve whole-grain breads and cereals.
- Broil, grill or steam foods instead of frying them.
- Offer low-fat milk, cheese and dairy products.
- Limit fast food, carry-out and junk food.
- When eating at fast-food or other restaurants, choose the healthiest options from the menu, such as fruit instead of French fries and grilled chicken with mustard instead of a hamburger with cheese and a creamy sauce.
- Choose salads with low-fat dressings over fried foods.
- Order thin-crust instead of deep-dish pizza and small instead of a medium or a medium instead of a large.
- Encourage your child to drink plenty of water or milk instead of sugar-added drinks such as fruit juice, sugar-sweetened fruit drinks, regular-calorie soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened or flavored milk or sweetened iced tea.
- Read labels. The Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods lists a variety of useful information, including the serving size, calories and nutrients per serving, and more.
- When reading labels, keep in mind that the ingredients are listed in order of predominance. So if, for example, you’re reading a cereal label, it would be best for the first ingredient to be a grain, not fructose or high fructose corn syrup or sucrose/sugar.
- Don’t limit sharing to toys! It is good with food, too. For example, instead of serving a whole bottle of juice, split it and share.
- Include breakfast in the daily line-up. Breakfast is very important to give your child the energy he or she needs to fuel learning.
- Avoid fried snacks. Opt for baked chips and pretzels or unbuttered popcorn.
- Don’t insist that your child “clean the plate.” You are on task to ensure your child has healthy food options in the house, but let your child determine how much to eat. Don’t push food.
- Avoid using desserts or treats as rewards or comfort. This may make your child value those foods more than nutritious options.
- Be a good role model for your child. Make sure that you are making healthy food choices and incorporating exercise into your life.
- Get the whole family involved in eating a healthier diet.
- Eat meals and snacks together as a family as often as possible.
- Eat at the table, not in front of the TV.
- Encourage your child to eat slowly and to stop eating when he or she starts to feel full.
- Spend time being active with your child--go on family walks and play outdoor games together every day.
Sometimes it may be difficult to get children to try new foods. Don’t be discouraged. Giving your child healthy options consistently over time will improve the odds that he or she will develop healthy eating habits.
This content was developed with general underwriting support from The Coca-Cola Company.
See a list of resources used in the development of this information.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff