We all know poor eating habits can lead to weight gain and heart problems, and that high cholesterol in children is growing in the United States. While we, as adults, have the power to transform our lifestyle to include a balanced diet and plenty of physical activity, getting the whole family on board can be a bit more challenging. In fact, you may be wondering, “How on earth do I get my kids to eat more greens?”
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Our goal is to make healthy eating fun and easy for everyone in your family. To do this, you’ll want to have food on hand that’s good for your kids and prepare meals that are both delicious and appealing to look at. Over time, your kids will grow to prefer the heart-healthy options (we promise).
In today’s blog, we’ll share how you can follow a heart-healthy diet with kids. These tips will help ensure a healthy heart for your family during childhood and beyond.
The Foundation of a Heart-Healthy Diet
Before you wrangle your kids to the dinner table, let’s start with the foundations of a heart-healthy diet. We all know we need to eat “healthy,” but what does that mean exactly? There are three major guidelines for a heart-healthy diet: cut down on saturated fats and sugar, and consume more fiber.
Saturated fat contributes to high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and heart disease. Swap whole milk with 1 percent or skim and your usual cheese and yogurt with low-fat options. Instead of red meat, we recommend lean poultry like chicken and turkey, or fish and shellfish for an extra kick of omega-3s.
Sugar contributes to fat storage in the body, which affects your metabolism and causes weight gain. Instead of serving tea or soda, opt for water. For an added splash of flavor, add in some mint and fresh berries. (Here are 23 combinations to check out.)
Pay close attention with juice, as some brands contain as much sugar as you’d find in soda. When you do serve it, mix it with some water and limit portions to a half-cup. As far as cereals go, you probably know where we’re headed. Try to keep sugary cereals and snacks out of the home. Your kids (and even yourself) are likely to munch on them if they’re staring at you from the cupboard.
Fiber is found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans. It helps remove unhealthy cholesterol from the body. Buy cereal with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and little to no added sugar if possible. Instead of cookies, crackers and chips, start serving fruits and vegetables as snacks.
As a rule of thumb, young children should have five servings of fruits and veggies per day. As for grains, aim for whole-grain pasta and bread, as well as brown rice instead of white. Lastly, include beans and other legumes that are rich in fiber and B vitamins.
How to Raise a Heart-Healthy Family
Now that you understand the basics of a heart-healthy diet, it’s time to bring in the family. The key to success here is shopping for heart-healthy foods ahead of time so they’re on hand for meals and snacks. From there, you’ll want to focus on preparing and presenting dishes in a fun and exciting way.
Bring your kids along with you to the grocery store, engage them, and include them in the preparation of dishes so they become accustomed to “healthy” being the new norm.
It’s difficult getting kids to eat their greens; sometimes it calls for a little creativity. Try serving vegetables in different forms. You can find riced cauliflower and broccoli in the frozen foods aisle of most grocery stores.
You can also use carrot or zucchini-based noodles as an appealing alternative for spaghetti and other pasta dishes. You can find these in the produce or refrigerated sections, or you can slice them yourself with an inexpensive spiralizer.
For younger children, it’s helpful to present food like an art project. Plan meals and snacks together using a rainbow of colors. Make smiling faces with apple and pear slices, or create eyes with banana slices and raisins. In other words, make eating fun for them and bring them along with you to the farmer’s market to pick out new fruits and vegetables to try.
As a rule of thumb, always present healthy food as a treat and never use dessert as a reward. If you need some ideas, Nutrition in the Kitchen Kids has a number of delicious recipes.
5 Tips for Dealing With Picky Eaters
When you get home from a long day at work, the last thing you want to do is wage a war over broccoli at the dinner table. Getting a picky eater to eat a nutritious meal doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. Here are some tips for dealing with picky eaters or getting family members to hop aboard.
- Incorporate healthier elements into foods they already like. Examples of this include blueberry pancakes, carrot muffins or vegetable rice.
- Include your kids in the prep work. They’ll feel some ownership over the meal and will be more likely to eat it.
- Stick to a snack time schedule. If your kids know they’ll only get food at certain times, they’ll likely eat when they get it.
- Stop the “clean your plate rule.” Your kids may actually be full, so let them stop. Overeating is one of the major reasons we consume too many calories.
- Be a good role model. The best way to influence your kids to follow a heart-healthy diet is by example. Don’t expect them to eat their brussel sprouts if you won’t touch them yourself.
There are various things you can do to help you and your family life safely, healthy and happy. As children are growing, eating food packed with nutrients is important. Food is the fuel that keeps our bodies running as well as the source of vitamins and minerals we need to be healthy and strong.
Curious about the state of your health? Reach out to us today and schedule a heart scan with our team at (918) 879-6161.
High Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Are the Leading Causes of Heart Disease.
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