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8 Ways to Get Kids to Eat Healthier Food

We have learned in recent years about the increase in childhood obesity and diabetes that has been attributed to poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles. What we haven’t heard as much about is the rise in depression and the increase in antidepressants prescribed to children. A shocking 2004 report revealed that the fastest growing group of people taking antidepressants were preschoolers age 5 and under! Then, according to a 2011 report by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the rate of antidepressant use in this country among teens and adults (people ages 12 and older) increased by almost 400% between 1988–1994 and 2005–2008. There is not a clear breakdown of how many of those were between 12 and 18 but whatever the number, it is too many.

There is clear evidence to support a link between diet and depression. Eating a diet consisting primarily of vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, fish, and grass-fed meat while avoiding processed food, fast food and junk food, decreases the risk of depression. Eating junk food is strongly associated with an increase in depression. We are seeing this, not just in America but around the globe where prepackaged chips, sweets, and other processed snacks are becoming more widely available and replacing traditional diets. The group most vulnerable to the effects of junk food is kids, both teens and preteens.

Teaching our children good eating habits is more important than ever but can sometimes be challenging due to our busy lifestyles and the readily available abundance of junk food and fast food. But with a little bit of smart planning, and help from our kids, we can meet, and beat, this challenge!

 

  1. Have Ready-To-Eat Fruits And Vegetables On Hand

 

Keep fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy snacks, like yogurt, in the house in place of junk food. Store sliced apples, orange sections, whole strawberries, grapes, dates, figs, a variety of nuts like cashews, almonds, and peanuts in covered containers in the refrigerator for quick access along with vegetables sliced into strips like carrots, celery, colored bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers. Have some healthy dips on hand like this easy homemade ranch dip, or salsa, for dipping the fruit and vegetables. Having healthy finger food easily accessible and ready to eat is key.

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  1. Pack Healthy Snacks With You When You Leave Home

 

Take a cooler packed full of healthy snacks with you when you go places. Children need to eat every few hours. To avoid falling into the “fast food drive-thru” trap, pack a small cooler with things like fruit juice, yogurt, sliced fruits and vegetables, string cheese, nuts, pumpkin seeds, dried fruit rollups, and whole grain crackers. Do the same when you attend children’s sporting events or anything that will have you away from home for more than a couple of hours.

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  1. Make Healthy Breakfasts Easy

 

Eating a healthy breakfast can be one of the biggest challenges for many busy families. Rather than succumbing to the convenience of processed cereals and toaster tarts, a little bit of planning ahead can make breakfast time a lot healthier with no additional fuss in the morning. This Refrigerator Oatmeal is awesome. Make it as much as several days ahead of time for an instant healthy breakfast. It is great for snacks and desserts too! Whip up a batch of whole grain pancake or waffle batter (I like using greek yogurt in place of milk for a higher protein content) on the weekend and make lots of extras. Place them in freezer bags separated with a piece of wax paper and toss in the freezer. On busy weekday mornings, just pull out as many as you need and reheat them in the toaster – much healthier and less expensive than store bought frozen waffles! This works as well with pancakes. You can make very healthy granola at home with much less sugar than store bought varieties. There are many great granola recipes online. My favorite is my own recipe that is included in my “Cooking to Cure” book, but there are many other good ones too. Having peeled hard-boiled eggs on hand makes an easy add-on to granola or pancakes for added protein or as a grab-and-go item. Kids love breakfast smoothies. They are fast and easy to make and can even be made the night before and stored in the refrigerator.

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  1. Cook Healthy Meals At Home

 

Serving a variety of whole grain breads and pastas, rice, colorful raw and steamed vegetables, fish, chicken and other meats (grass-fed and organic whenever possible) is the best way to introduce children to nutritious food. Some children are more eager to try new foods than others so don’t be surprised if you have to reintroduce a new food numerous times before it is accepted. I do a lot of roasting at my house when I’m not grilling on the BBQ. Most meats and vegetables go in the oven for roasting and I steam or sauté greens like kale, collards, and chard. I try to have something raw as well like spinach salad or fermented vegetables.

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  1. Have Kids Help With Shopping And Cooking

 

Children love being involved and are much more inclined to like something they are invested in. Have them help you make a shopping list, choose the produce at the grocery store (or farmers market when you can), and then let them help with meal preparation as much as their age allows. If they are old enough, let them help wash and chop vegetables or put them in pans or bowls after they are chopped. Mixing sauce ingredients or dips and dressings for salads with some “taste testing” is part of what makes meal preparation fun.

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  1. Involve Kids In Gardening

 

Children are fascinated by growing things. Kids are much more likely to eat food that they have been involved in growing and harvesting. Almost anyone can grow vegetables even if you don’t have much space. There are many examples of container gardens, patio gardens, and rooftop gardens available on the Internet. Growing your own food has many health and mental health benefits and is a very good thing to teach your children to do.

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  1. Make Healthy, Real Food, Desserts

 

Desserts and nighttime snacks don’t have to be full of sugar and other bad things. Fresh fruit is always a good option. I love making fruit sorbet with frozen banana, frozen strawberries, and any fresh fruit like peach or mango by simply blending it all in the blender. No added sugar is necessary. Dreamsicles are another favorite made from yogurt and strawberries or any fruit of your choosing. Old fashioned baked apples, cored and stuffed with nuts, cinnamon, and honey or maple syrup is another easy, healthy option. Popcorn can be a healthy after dinner snack when made from non-GMO corn, drizzled with a bit of grass-fed organic butter and sprinkled with nutritional yeast. It’s surprisingly delicious.

Or, try making these Warm Banana Roll-ups by spreading cream cheese, cinnamon and honey on a whole wheat tortilla and rolling around a banana. Grill in a frying pan until crispy on the outside and warm and gooey on the inside. An even easier version is to spread peanut butter on a warm tortilla and wrap around a banana.

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  1. Be A Role Model

 

Children learn by example. If they see you drinking a green smoothie for breakfast, ordering salads when you eat out, and snacking on healthy foods, so will they. When parents embrace a healthy lifestyle by serving and eating healthy meals, exercising, and taking care of your physical and mental health, that’s what kids learn to do. When you have healthy food in the house instead of processed food full of sugar, salt, and fat, that’s what kids learn to eat. Make eating healthy food part of your whole family’s habits. Healthy parents grow healthy kids!

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