This week is Every Kid Healthy Week, promoting sound nutrition, regular physical activity and health-awareness programs in schools. The initiative comes at a critical time. Today, nearly 40% of children’s diets come from added sugars and unhealthy fats. And only 21% of youth age 6-19 eat the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day, according to the Prevention Institute.
In honor of Every Kid Healthy Week, we’ve asked Jessica Beacom, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Co-Founder of The Real Food Dietitians, to share her tips on healthy eating habits for kids and families.
Pete’s Living Greens: As a dietitian, what is the biggest challenge to get kids to eat healthy?
Jessica Beacom: In households where there is access to less healthy snack and meal options in addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, the former will almost always win which is frustrating for parents who want their kids to eat healthy. Gradually removing the processed and packaged foods from the home (and not bringing them back in with the next shopping trip) decreases the number of choices available for snacking so that healthier foods can take the main stage.
PLG: Most families are constantly on-the-go. What are some easy ways parents can continue to offer healthy options despite busy schedules?
JB: Taking time each week to wash, chop and package vegetables, fruits and salads in containers that can be easily tossed into purses, backpacks or coolers for on-the-go snacking makes healthy eating on-the-go so much easier. Adding small packages of nuts, jerky, single-serve nut or seed butter, dried coconut flakes, deli meat and organic cheese or yogurt for protein and healthy fats is easy to do and can save you from meltdowns and decreases the temptation to turn to fast food meals or less healthful pre-packaged snacks.
PLG: What is your advice to parents who have picky eaters?
JB: Don’t force anything. Implementing a “No, thank you” bite policy is key because it means your kids need to try everything at least once. If they don’t like it, don’t sweat it. Don’t bat an eye and don’t make a fuss about it. Often this is what kids want from us…a reaction. A hungry kid will eventually find something they like and eat it up. And it’s okay if they eat just broccoli at dinner because over the course of the week their food choices will balance out. Another benefit of the “No, thank you” bite is that you can prepare foods you like (but know your kids won’t be crazy about) provided you also offer something that you know they’ll like better (provided they’re still great choices). This is a great way to introduce your kids to more exotic meals like curry, stir fry, chili, new vegetables, salads, etc.
Here are a few family-friendly Real Food Dietitans recipes picked especially for our Pete’s Living Greens followers by Jessica. They even include one of our favorite ingredients: butter lettuce!