A Parent’s Role in Nutrition Education
By Dana Yarn, RDLD
It is alarming that many schools don't give nutrition education the attention it deserves, especially with the rising childhood obesity rate. As a result, it should place a high level of pressure on parents to teach their children about the benefits of proper nutrition and making quality food choices. Teaching your child early on will also positively impact what they choose to eat when away from home as they grow up and are faced with food choices alone.
Nutrition education can be taught daily. Families typically eat breakfast and dinner together, there are multiple opportunities to teach your child how to eat well and make healthy choices. Parents can exert incredible influence, even when it's not always welcome, to ensure their kids grow with healthy habits. Like anything leading by example is the most powerful way to influence your child. Thus, you should model positive behavior around food. Take your children with you to grocery shop and involve them with meal preparation. Both are great steps toward improving their knowledge of nutrition. Start discussing these topics around the dinner table:
1. Teach the difference between real food and processed foods. Use tools that have already been created like MyPlate or MyPyramid websites to teach portion control and benefits of certain healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, nuts, seeds, and proteins. Processed items are unnatural and packaged with misleading label claims and feature harmful ingredients that could contribute to healthy issues like obesity, ADHD, etc.
2. Water should be the first choice for hydration. Give your child a goal of ½ their body weight in ounces of plain water per day to consume. Juice and other sugar-dense (or even non-calorie artificially sweetened) beverages should be a rare treat.
3. Teach them what their plate should look like at each meal. Every time they eat they should have high-quality protein, a fruit or vegetable, and a carbohydrate that is not processed like rice, potatoes, etc.
4. Breakfast should be consumed daily for all members of the family. NEVER send your child off to school without brain food. This is a recipe for poor mental focus and energy.
5. Avoid being a "food cop." Don't force or nag your kids to eat foods they don't like. Keep healthy choices around majority of the time and if a treat slips in here or there that is okay too. Learning healthy habits should be fun for the whole family and of course result in a long-term lifestyle change.
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