As a parent, the most natural reflex is to protect your child. So if you knew you could help your child decrease their risk for serious health issues such as obesity, asthma, heart disease, diabetes and joint issues, wouldn't you?
Curbing these risks is within your control. And the earlier you start teaching youngsters healthy habits, the easier it will be for them to stay on the right path for lifelong health and wellness.
March is National Nutrition Month, so it's the perfect time to focus on helping children learn how food affects their bodies.
Young children may not understand the difference between carbohydrates and proteins or exactly what vitamins and minerals do, but they can understand that fruits and vegetables are good for you and too much sugar, candy and cookies makes you feel bad.
How can you get started? Come at it from the child's perspective make it fun. Here are a few suggestions.
For younger children, add color by making half their plate fruits and vegetables in keeping with the recently revised food guidelines.
Try a few of these recipes to make healthy eating fun:
Ants on a Log: Spread celery with peanut butter or cream cheese and sprinkle with raisins.
Snack kabobs: Put cubes of low-fat cheese and grapes on pretzel sticks.
Banana Split: Top a banana with low-fat vanilla and strawberry frozen yogurt. Sprinkle with your favorite whole-grain cereal.
Children as young as six can easily understand the "MyPlate" dietary guidelines which have replaced the Food Pyramid. For more tips visit www.choosemyplate.gov.
A large portion of what we all eat should be fruits, vegetables and whole grains with smaller portions of proteins and dairy.
Get older kids involved in making the grocery list and shopping for food. And teach them how to read and interpret food labels to make good choices.
For example, ask your child to choose three cereals and read the labels to determine which has the most sugar and which has the most fiber. Explain that sugary foods tend to be high in calories and not all that filling, but foods containing fiber help to maintain a healthy weight. Ask them to give the cereal with the least sugar and the most fiber a try.
Helping to select and cook meals gives children a sense of ownership. They can participate in prepping vegetables, making salad or cooking rice and grains with the appropriate supervision.
Keep a healthy recipe book in the kitchen, and at least once a week, encourage your child to choose and help prepare the meal. You'll be imparting a valuable life skill.
Visit local farms and orchards where you and your children can see, touch, taste, smell and learn about nutritious local food. Buying what's in season is not only fresher, it's usually also cheaper.
While it's not always possible with busy schedules, eat together as often as possible at the table. Avoid eating in front of the television. And plan what you will eat, and when, to ensure that your child is getting his or her nutritional needs met.
Finally, rather than lecturing children about bad eating habits, encourage healthy eating. Do not reward, bribe or punish your child with food. When adults use food to reward or punish, they may be teaching the child to become an emotional eater.
Because we believe in keeping children healthy and safe, Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania offers free information on children's wellness. Visit www.bcnepa.com for additional resources on healthy eating.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Help your child avoid becoming a statistic by making informed food choices and teaching them sound habits that will last a lifetime.
Kile is an associate medical director at Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania and a pediatrician with an office in Kingston.