Ok, caregivers! How many of you struggle to get your young children to eat a well-balanced diet? Are there days when they just want to eat cereal? Or fruit? Or beg for a juice box and popsicle?
As tempting as it might be to cave in to these desires, it is important for us to remember that eating a variety of foods keeps our children’s meals interesting and flavorful. It is also the key to a healthy and balanced diet that will provide the mix of nutrients that we all need. Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health explains this idea by using a Healthy Plate as a blueprint to help us make good eating choices.
An ideal plate will have:
- Half a plate filled with colorful vegetables and fruits. The more vegetables – and the greater variety – the better! And remember, french fries don’t count as a vegetable! Try to eat plenty of fruits of all colors. Whole fruits or sliced fruits are better than fruit juices.
- Split the rest of your plate between whole grains and healthy proteins. If possible, choose whole grains (whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa), rather than white rice, bread, and other refined grains. When it comes to healthy proteins, choose beans and peas, nuts, seeds, and other plant-based protein options, as well as fish, eggs, and poultry.
- To round out a healthy plate, remember that dairy foods are needed in smaller amounts than the other foods on our plate. Unflavored milk, plain yogurt, and small amounts of cheese are excellent sources of calcium and Vitamin D.
- Water is the best choice for quenching our thirst! Try to limit juices as much as possible.
Are you thinking “Nice try!” or “My child isn’t going to eat a plate filled with veggies!” ? Well, most kids enjoy helping in the kitchen. As the National Institute of Health explains, “While they help you cook, you can talk to them about healthy foods. Children like to eat food they make. This is a good way to get them to try new healthy foods.” The NIH has great tips for Getting Kids in the Kitchen, including ways to get them interested in helping and being creative in the kitchen.
Another way to get your child engaged with what they are eating is to actually grow your own food! While not everyone has the space to try to plant tomatoes or lettuces, even a window with a few herbs can be a fun project for your child to plant and help water and pick to use in recipes. Herbs like basil and mint are very hardy and can thrive in small window spaces.
Luckily, Alexandria also has several farmers’ markets. Visiting a farmers’ market is a fun family outing. There is so much to talk about – the colors and variety of foods are exciting! If you visit the Old Town Farmers’ Market (301 King Street, Alexandria, VA) on Saturdays from 7am to noon, you can double your SNAP/EBT dollars and get more fruits and vegetables when you use your own SNAP/EBT card.
Most importantly, remember that children learn by watching others! This means that you can set good examples for your children when you choose how and what you cook. An added benefit of this is that you will also be eating a healthy and balanced diet that gives you more energy to enjoy time as a family!