Implementing Healthy Food Choices for Kids

Submitted by Dave Draeger, CDM, CFPP,

Director of Dietary and Dining Services

With summer fast approaching and the current pandemic situation, finding and choosing healthy foods has become a challenge.  Schools are still attempting to provide meals, food shortages are common and no one can predict the near future.  What we do know is that providing good quality food each day for children is important.  Daycares, preschools and schools are required to follow Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  This philosophy promotes a healthy eating pattern across a lifespan.  The Dietary Guidelines emphasizes wholesome foods, like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean meats, healthier oils, and low fat and fat free dairy products.  Limiting intake of foods high in saturated fats, added sugar and sodium is also important.  Daily physical activity remains a key cog to optimal health as well.

In 2018, the FDA implemented new and improved Nutrition Facts Labels for packaged foods and beverages.  Previous Nutrition Fact Labels provided serving size, calorie count, daily values for fats, vitamins, minerals, and cholesterol, to name a few.  The new format improves readability of labels and reflects scientific information.  Further information can be found on the FDA.GOV website.

When analyzing food labels 5% of daily values are low nutrients, while 20% is high.  Fat, cholesterol, sugars and sodium should be low, while fiber, vitamins and minerals should be high.  One can learn a lot from reading food labels to make sound nutritional choices.

Lead by example and set core principles related to meal and snack planning, choices and options.  Do not become discouraged if children refuse new food items or recipes.  Encourage small bites, consume the item yourself and promote the benefits.  Often children need to see and taste new items numerous times before accepting it.

Involve children in the planning, shopping and preparing of food.  When shopping provide options while picking menu items.  Ask them what looks good in the vegetable aisle and seek input from them.  At home in the kitchen, allow them to assist and prep meals and snacks.  When children are actively involved they may be more willing to try and accept new foods and recipes.  Teaching them food safety, handwashing and sanitation gives them a sense of importance.

Developing and promoting healthy nutritional food choices must start at a young age.  Once instilled they often continue throughout life.  Keep trying new foods, who knows “Mikey might like it.”

Have a great summer.