How to Prioritize Your Kid’s Nutrition Without Sacrificing Your Own
When it comes to nutrition in your family, does it seem like there’s a discrepancy between the way you feed your kids and the way you feed yourself? It’s not uncommon that, while baby snacks on granola bars fortified with kale & cherries and probiotic-rich yogurt, you’re wolfing down whatever’s at hand. In fact, brand-new research from the International Food Information Council reveals that 70 percent of parents of children under 24 months admit that their kids’ diets are more nutritious than their own.
As parents, we all want the best for our kids — so it’s only natural that their diets get special attention. The desire to raise little ones with nutrition that will set them up for a lifetime of health is a genuinely good thing. “Nutrition is important throughout the life cycle, but especially during childhood,” confirms the IFIC’s Nutrition Communications Coordinator Alyssa Ardolino, a registered dietitian nutritionist. “Childhood is a significant period of growth and development, and a wide range of foods and nutrients are essential for good health.” Still, perfecting your kid’s diet doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing your own. Here are five tips to ensure that both you and your little one eat right.
1. Don’t cook separately for kids. Cooking separate meals for your kid doesn’t just make more work for you — it can actually set up negative patterns for your family’s nutrition. Prepping two different dinners gives you less time to make something healthy for yourself, sends a message that there’s a difference between “kid food” and “grown-up food,” and may create a sense of entitlement you really don’t want to encourage in your toddler. In general, what’s good for parents is good for kids (and vice versa). Everyone wins by sharing the same meals.
2. The family that eats together stays (healthy) together. Once you’ve made a single meal for the whole family, eating it together is the obvious next step. We’ve all seen the stats on the benefits of family dinners for strengthening relationships, but eating together has also been linked to increased intake of fruits and vegetables, fiber, and micronutrients, along with decreased consumption of fried foods, saturated fat, and soda.
3. Pack their lunch, and then pack yours. Another way to level the nutritional playing field is to make packed lunches a family affair. If you’re already making the time to prepare lunch for your child’s day at school or daycare, it may not be such a stretch to make your own while you’re at it. Packing lunch to take to work gives you far more control over your midday meal than dining out — so you’re more likely to make healthier choices and eat moderately.
4. Portion control is for everyone. Those bento-style pre-portioned plates for toddlers are popular for a reason. Not only do they offer visual cues for divvying up your little one’s dinner, but they can also add interest to the blank sameness of a regular plate. (Every little bit helps when you’ve got a picky eater, right?) Extend the same benefits to yourself — plus the additional bonus of portion control’s weight maintaining effects — by taking note of visuals of your own plate. One helpful tool is the FDA’s “My Plate” graphic. This image, which replaced the food pyramid in 2011 (because who eats off a pyramid?) shows appropriate proportions of each food group on the same plate. Fruits and vegetables together make up 50 percent, while protein and grains comprise the other half. Dairy plays a supporting role, represented by a cup of milk on the side. Tack a MyPlate printout up on your kitchen wall for reference, or simply keep these ratios in mind when dishing up your own dinner.
5. Make experimentation a group project. Your pediatrician has probably advised you to introduce a variety of foods to your child and to keep trying even in the face of refusal. Unlike our kids, however, we adults don’t have a spoon “airplane” flying new tastes and textures into our mouths at every meal — so we can tend to get set in our ways, food-wise. But experimenting with new foods has positive health effects for kids and adults alike. “Trying new foods can encourage healthier eating, because it exposes children and adults to a wide variety of foods,” says Ardolino. “A range of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, healthy fats, and whole grains all provide different yet valuable nutrients to our body. The more foods you’re willing to try, the better chance you’ll have of getting those nutrients.” Not surprisingly, research shows that adventurous eaters weigh less and are more likely to be physically active. So when it comes to taste testing, neither you nor your kid should go it alone: Make an adventure out of sampling outside-the-box options together.
Do you tend to put your kids’ nutrition ahead of your own? Tweet us at @BritandCo.
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