Tips for Healthy Eating At Home or On the Go
The hectic nature of daily life often presents challenges for families who are looking to prepare healthy meals throughout the day. But there are some easy solutions to creating nutritious selections for finicky kids that taste good and also provide the vitamins and minerals needed to maintain proper health.
Catholic Health Services’s Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center Clinical Dietitian Cathleen Davis, RD, CDN, MS, offers tips on what foods should be avoided and how parents can create healthy, tasty meals for their kids.
Q: From the perspective of what kids eat today, what are the biggest causes of obesity among children?
A: The biggest causes of obesity seem to be from processed foods and drinks in our children’s diet. The processing of foods and drinks strip the natural fibers, nutrients and phytochemicals that are so beneficial to our health. Those often are composed of quickly absorbed sugars, and also contain unhealthy fats and additives that contribute to inflammation, abdominal obesity and early disease.
Q: What types of food and/or what ingredients in food contribute to obesity with kids?
A: Processed foods (think sugary cereals, waffles, chips, cookies and candy just to name a few) were originally a grain that had been processed down to refined (nutrient depleted) unhealthy flour with sugars and unhealthy fats added. Food coloring is added for appeal followed by more chemicals to maintain the food’s texture. Finally, more chemicals are often added to make flavors more intense so that our children’s young palate will grow accustomed and even expect that level of flavor to satisfy their appetite. This is why we need to avoid processed foods in our young children allowing them to appreciate and grow comfortable with whole foods textures and true natural flavors.
Q: What role do sugary drinks have in contributing to obesity?
A: Sugary drinks are one of the biggest contributors of added unnecessary empty calories. When I show a family 9 sugar packets for one can of soda they see why they should avoid it. One-hundred percent real juice should be limited to 4 ounces for children over the age of one and I often suggest diluting the juice with a small amount of water to decrease its sweetness. Avoid drinks with added sugars such as sucrose, glucose and high fructose corn syrup as they lead to tooth decay and add extra calories. Giving cut up soft fruits can be a better choice.
Q: As parents look for food and beverages that are healthy and also satisfying for their kids, what suggestions do you have?
A: Serve water at all meals. Even if you offer a high calcium drink as well, it is really important to send the message that water is what we need. If you want to, add some sliced fruits or lemon/mint/cucumber for a pop of fun. You can even serve flavored seltzer (or perhaps freezing pureed fruits in an ice cube tray) and pop in a few for some delicious nutrition and flavor. Try to avoid all artificial sweeteners as they are not recommended and add unnecessary chemicals.
Q: What role does time of day play in maintaining a healthy diet and reducing the risk of obesity?
A: Setting mealtime schedules helps promote health and security for little ones. Try to offer healthy meals that even as a toddler they can choose and participate in creating. When meals are haphazard and not healthy we send the message that food is not about nourishing our bodies and enjoying family time. When we eat on the run grabbing convenience items sends a message of “anything to fill our stomach” and bad habits begin to form that usually lead to a diet of highly processed fats, little fiber and often extra unnecessary sugars and salt. Occasional healthy (planned) grab and go ideas such as fruits, nuts, dried beans, sliced veggies, low fat cheese or low sugar yogurts can be a great idea that can be thrown together in minutes. This sends the message that our health counts. It is also suggested to have families avoid eating for at least 1.5 hours before bedtime to prevent digestive problems.
Q: What is the one piece of advice you would offer parents regarding the diets of their children?
A: My suggestion for families is always to have a plan. Young families can use wonderful and easy to use healthy eating and meal planning Apps and websites that help with planning meals, which even include shopping lists. They can start with a dry erase board to keep it simple with the days of the week and simple meals for each day. Children love routines, so parents can have a one or two week simple meal schedule that can be changed as necessary. A great website such as All Recipes gives you recipes that are formed from the items you already have in your refrigerator. Yumboxlunch and Lalalunchbox are examples of Instagram accounts that show you how easy it is to create a healthy lunch.