With every meal, children develop their lifelong eating habits. The food choices they make while young can impact how their genes work later in life. Healthy kids make healthy adults, but only 39% of children ages 2 to 17 meet USDA recommendations for fiber, which is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans, and only 7% of children ages 2 to 19 meet recommendations for whole grains. Eating the types of foods listed above that contain natural fiber help combat cancer. Try these three simple steps to help your kids eat more plant-based foods, so they can be healthy now and later!
1) Turn off the TV: Food companies spend billions on marketing campaigns that utilize television, Internet advertising, brand licensing, and games to promote food products may seem fun, but offer little nutritional value. Kids love the colorful packaging they see on sweets, cereals, and sodas, but don’t realize that the package hides an unhealthy product. Take the time to explain to your child that these companies care about getting their money and not whether they are healthy. Help your children outsmart food companies by introducing them to foods that come in natural packaging, like bananas, apples and oranges. Remember that children like eating foods that are visually appealing. Cut fruits into fun shapes, serve them in creative ways, and have your kids help wash and prepare them
Turning off the TV is a great way to minimize your child’s exposure to enticing advertisements and an opportunity to encourage more exercise, but you can also turn the TV into a healthy tool by exer-gaming with your children using Wii Fit or Kinect type games. Keep their energy up by serving them a fun snack full of fruits and veggies!
2) Take your kids to the Farmer’s Market: Visit your favorite farmers market with your children to see what’s in season. Encourage your kids to talk to the famers and to ask them questions about how the foods grow and how they like to eat them. Your children will enjoy learning about where the foods come from, and they will be more likely to eat the foods they’ve learned about. Let your kids pick out a new food and prepare it together the way the farmer suggested. Be sure to share the advantages of eating locally and seasonally. After the farmer’s market, plan a trip to the park to appreciate your planet that helped grow the food! Pack a picnic, play catch, or bring along a hula-hoop for a spin off contest!
3) Chart your colors: When it comes to fruits and vegetables, color diversity is everything! Eating fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains and spices and herbs of different colors gives your body a wide range of valuable nutrients. Let your kids know that eating foods of all different colors will provide them with nutrients that help them grow and allow their bodies to fight off invasion from bacteria and viruses, and from diseases like cancer. Have your children track the colors they eat with the Super Crew color tracker. Suddenly, they may be more interested in eating a new plant food, herb or spice so they can fill in all the colors on their chart!
By taking the initiative to create healthy habits now, you can decrease your child’s risk for cancer later! It’s so much easier to grow into healthy habits at an early age than to battle bad habits later. But either way, you teach your kids with your example, so be a great role model and show your kids how much you love both healthy produce and the earth where it grew!
Melissa Halas-Liang, MA, RD, CDE, is a nationally recognized nutrition educator and wellness expert and founder of superkidsnutrition.com. She teaches nutrition through nutritioned.net and serves as spokesperson for the California Dietetic Association. Follow Melissa on facebook or twitter @fitnutrition.