Are your kids eating healthy? Good nutrition is essential to the overall well-being of children. While it’s easy to give potato chips and fried meals all the time, parents must ensure the good health of their kids in the long run.
Learning about proper nutrition and why it matters is necessary to keep your kids healthy. From meal planning to family guidance, there are many aspects to take into consideration. Luckily for you, we’ve gathered all the information you need right here.
Why Should Kids Eat Healthier?
It’s easier to understand the value of good health if you know the pros and cons. Below, we’ll tackle the bad eating habits of children and identify what happens if they ate better food.
A. Health-Related Issues of Kids
Kids today have a variety of food choices. The problem is that not all of them are good for their health. Here, we look into the health issues affecting kids whether they’re in school or at home.
1. Child Obesity
According to data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2015 to 2016, almost one in every five kids has obesity. To put it simply, obesity refers to having too much body fat. It’s caused by several factors — but the eating behavior is one of the most common causes.
Measuring Child Obesity
In the U.S. and around the world, excessive eating leads to too many calories and energy. One way to check if someone is obese is by determining their body mass index (BMI), which is solved by dividing the overall body weight in kilograms by the square their total height in meters.
For people aged between two and 20 years old, health practitioners use the BMI percentile to determine whether they are healthy, overweight, or obese. If your kid has a BMI ranging from 86 to 94 percent, they are overweight. Children with a BMI in at least the 95th percentile are considered obese.
Effects of Child Obesity
The CDC encourages families, communities, and organizations to tackle childhood obesity for good reason. Kids who develop obesity are exposed to effects that are felt immediately and in the long run.
For one, an obese child has a greater likelihood of growing into an obese adult than a healthy kid.
Upon reaching adulthood, obese individuals have an increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. And as noted by Cancer Research UK, they become more prone to getting several types of cancer such as bowel, breast, pancreatic, liver, womb, and gallbladder cancer.
Second, obese children could have their emotional and mental well-being affected when bullies target them for their weight. It’s also not uncommon for them to seek social isolation and to have low self-esteem. Third, they can suffer from sleep apnea, joint problems, and type 2 diabetes.
2. Being Undernourished
In contrast to being obese, some children don’t get enough food to eat every day. One in six children in the United States does not eat regularly. As noted by No Kid Hungry, more than 13 million kids in the U.S. belong to “food insecure” homes struggling to make ends meet as they live below the poverty line.
As identified by Live Strong, malnutrition has severe effects on children. One such implication is nutrient deficiency, which includes vitamins and minerals. Not enough Vitamin C can lead to the scurvy disease that causes fatigue and bleeding. Likewise, kids without enough iron intake can develop anemia.
Another long-term consequence of child malnutrition is stunting. In other words, the child won’t grow optimally — becoming short and thin instead of tall and healthy. Plus, inefficient nutrition negatively affects the cognitive development of children.
3. Quality of School Meals
One way to entice parents to enroll their children in a school is to provide free school lunches. However, these meals aren’t always good for kids. Back in 2010, USA Today conducted an investigation and found out that fast-food chains had better meat-testing standards than school cafeterias.
In particular, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was okay with having 10 times more of the generic E. coli bacteria in their meat than the American fast-food restaurant Jack in the Box. The USDA allowed schools to use low-quality meat to feed students.
The standards for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) have since improved, but the point here is that school meals aren’t automatically healthy enough for kids to consume. Don’t forget that a seemingly healthy cup of chocolate milk for a school lunch may already contain five teaspoons of sugar.
4. Unhealthy Eating Habits
A huge problem affecting the health of kids these days is their eating habits. For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics found that almost 34 percent of children and young people aged from two to 19 years old consumed fast food on a given day.
Once these habits develop, it can be difficult to make your children prefer fruits and vegetables instead. Fast food has long been linked to child obesity, with the number of obese children doubling in the last 30 years.
Why Kids Develop These Habits
The problem stems from different factors. For one, the fast food industry supposedly spends almost five millions dollars each day to advertise their snacks — often loaded with sugar, salt, and fat. HealthyChildren.org notes that fast food companies collaborate with toy manufacturers to attract kids.
Furthermore, fast food companies now utilize the Internet to advertise their products through social media. Celebrities and even video games are approached to endorse soft drinks and unhealthy snacks as well.
Parents are also partly to blame. The University of North Carolina discovered that there is a correlation between eating patterns at home and the eventual eating habits kids develop. If they saw their parents eating fast food, they might deem this as acceptable to have on a regular basis.
Effects of Bad Nutrition
Taken in moderate amounts, caffeine isn’t such a bad thing. It’s what many adults prefer to get them energized and ready to do work. However, kids can easily find get more caffeine than they need by consuming coffee, chocolate, tea, soft drinks, and even energy drinks.
Adults have a higher tolerance than kids when it comes to caffeine, but even they suffer from symptoms of excess caffeine.
Children who get too much of it can experience nervousness, stomach pains, high blood pressure, and problems in sleeping and concentrating.
Drinks containing caffeine could also have empty calories that provide no vitamins and minerals. Likewise, energy drinks have a lot of sugar that can result in dental cavities. It doesn’t help that suddenly preventing your kids from taking in caffeine can lead to irritability and headaches.
This macronutrient gets a bad name, but fat isn’t necessarily bad. Fats help kids’ bodies to develop nerve tissue and hormones. And like carbohydrates, fats can be used for energy. The problem is having too many fats and picking the bad types over the good one.
As noted by Healthdirect Australia, unsaturated fats are the best type and are found in plant foods and fish.
On the other hand, both saturated and trans fats raise cholesterol levels and increase the likelihood of developing heart disease. Trans fats are also associated with diabetes.
Saturated fats are found in meat products, cheese, milk, butter, and coconut oil. As for trans fats, they are contained in foods children like to eat such as doughnuts, cookies, stick margarine, microwave popcorn, and cakes.
3. Carbs and Sugars
Similar to fat and caffeine, both carbohydrates and sugar aren’t completely unhealthy. Carbs in fruits and vegetables have dietary fiber to aid in digestion. Moreover, these foods contain glucose, a form of sugar that can be converted into energy.
The problem comes from having too much sugar. This often happens when kids eat cakes, cookies, and other sweet products.
These typically don’t have any dietary fiber to manage all the blood sugar coming into the body.
Children also begin to crave for more sugary products, leading to more sugar. In the end, the excess sugar is converted into fat. In other words, children gain weight and increase their risk to type 2 diabetes. Having too many carbs is also linked to vascular diseases and atherosclerosis.
4. Processed Meat
Kids today are used to eating processed meat. Examples of this type of food are sausages, hot dogs, bacon, beef jerky, ham, and canned meat. They are cheap and easy to prepare but comes at a cost to one’s health.
Regularly consuming processed meat can make your kids develop chronic diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, and pulmonary disease.
According to Healthline, it’s also linked to both bowel and stomach cancer.
Frying and grilling are perhaps the most popular way to cook processed meat, but these bring dangers as well. Cooking bacon, burgers, and sausages in high temperature leads to the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs). These are chemical compounds linked to prostate, colon, and breast cancer.
People think that they can keep watch over their kids’ sodium intake by not putting too much salt in their food. However, sodium can be found in many foods such as noodles, chicken nuggets, instant macaroni and cheese, and even bread — all of which are popular picks by students to save on money.
According to Heart.org, nine out of 10 Americans eat too much sodium. Consuming excess sodium makes children more likely to develop high blood pressure. Moreover, too much salt or sodium puts kids at risk for kidney disease, stomach cancer, osteoporosis, and heart failure.
Benefits of Eating Healthy for Kids
Eating healthy is what prevents kids from developing all the aforementioned health risks associated with obesity, malnutrition, and excess amounts of sodium, fats, and others. In fact, proper health prevents malnourishment and obesity in the first place.
Kids achieve better physical and cognitive development when they get all the vitamin and minerals they need. Children will always have enough energy to study and play without building up excess fat. They can go about their day without feeling hungry or bloated.
Thus, eating healthy has significant benefits for your kids. It could spell the difference between a dismal and an outstanding performance in both studies and sports. Proper nutrition keeps children focused and fit enough to do their daily tasks.
What Foods Should Kids Eat to Stay Healthy?
You don’t have to spend a lot of time and effort to seek the healthiest meals for your kids. Governmental and educational institutions alike are prepared to assist parents in the field of nutrition. And if you’re worried about the budget, there are always affordable yet healthy options to consider.
A. The USDA Guides
The USDA has always strived to help families choose the best foods for their children. Throughout the years, the organization has introduced a variety of food guides that range from the popular food pyramid to the most recent MyPlate nutrition guide.
The USDA Food Pyramid
There are actually two versions of the food pyramid, but the first one introduced way back in 1992 is the more popular one. The 1992 Food Guide Pyramid was a simple way to visually recommend what people should be eating. In contrast to the bottom level, the foods at the top should be consumed sparingly.
While it was great that the food pyramid introduced concepts such as moderation and food proportion, its advice wasn’t quite accurate. The guide didn’t specify that whole grains are better options than refined grains. Similarly, it grouped healthy proteins with processed and red meat.
The 2005 MyPyramid had good intentions but it wasn’t easy to see. Each food group had a representative color such as orange for grains and blue for milk. There was even an individual going up the steps to remind everyone to exercise, but the guide failed to outshine the 1992 food pyramid.
MyPlate Nutrition Guide
Since then, the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion has moved on from the food pyramid diagrams and switched to a simpler and better guide. In 2014, MyPlate was formally introduced. It showed a plate and glass containing five food groups.
MyPlate wants families to prioritize variety and amount when it comes to nutrition. The guide hopes to make people prefer foods and drinks that have a low amount of fat, sodium, and added sugars. Furthermore, MyPlate believes that eating healthier can be done with one small change at a time.
What are the Five Food Groups?
The first group refers to fruits and 100 percent fruit juices. Thus, fresh apples and oranges along with 100 percent pineapple juice all belong here. Your kids can eat them fruits whole or cut up into small pieces. Plus, fruits can be had fresh, dried, or even canned among others.
Recommended Daily Amount
For kids aged between two to three years old, one cup of fruits is recommended every day. From four to eight years old, they can have up to 1.5 cups. Similarly, 1.5 cups of fruits are suggested for children aged between nine and 13 years old.
But once they reach 14 to 18 years of age, there are differences based on sex. Girls are recommended to still consume 1.5 cups while boys should have two cups instead. Note that these daily amounts are best suited for children who spend less than 30 minutes on daily physical activities — those who are more active can consume more fruits since they burn more calories.
Similar to fruits, the vegetable group includes both vegetables and 100 percent vegetable juices. Furthermore, they can be divided into five groups based on nutritional content: (1) beans and peas, (2) dark-green, (3) red and orange, (4) starchy, and (5) other vegetables.
Recommended Daily Amount
It’s unlikely that your kids will like to eat raw vegetables early on, but they might appreciate them more when cooked and combined with their favorite meat or pasta meal. Children between two to three years old should eat a cup each day. Four to eight-year-olds should have 1.5 cups.
Girls between nine to 13 years old should eat two cups while boys get 2.5 cups. The amount for girls increases to 2.5 cups while boys have three cups once they reach the age of 14. Remember that one cup here can also mean two cups of raw leafy greens apart from single cups of vegetable or vegetable juice.
Foods that have grains such as wheat, barley, rice, and cornmeal are all considered grain products. Children are most familiar with pasta, bread, and cereals. There are two subgroups: whole grains and refined grains. It’s not uncommon for food products to have both types of grains.
If the grain kernel is still intact, it is considered a whole grain. Products such as whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, and brown rice all utilize whole grains. This is because they contain dietary fiber that decreases cholesterol levels and treats constipation.
Grains that have their bran and germ taken away through milling are called refined grains. White rice and white bread have them since the grains have a smoother texture and last longer. Refined grains lose beneficial dietary fiber, iron, and B vitamins present in whole grains. Still, there are enriched refined grains that have B vitamins put back.
Recommended Daily Amount
As for the recommended daily amount, half of it should be comprised of whole grain products. Two to three-year-olds should have three-ounce equivalents of grains. One ounce is equal to a slice of bread or half a cup of cooked rice.
Four to eight-year-olds and girls aged between nine and 13 must eat five-ounce equivalents of grain. Girls from 14 to 18 and boys from nine to 13 years old need six-ounce equivalents. Lastly, boys between 14 and 18 should consume eight-ounce equivalents of grains.
IV. PROTEIN FOODS
This food group is not just about meat — it also includes seafood, poultry, nuts, and seeds. Interestingly, beans and peas that are in the vegetable group also belong in this group due to their protein content. Your kids should not just rely on processed meat to get their daily recommended amount of protein.
Seafood is a great source of protein. Parents should also choose lean or low-fat varieties of meat and poultry. On the other hand, vegetarian households can focus on nuts, seeds, beans, and soy products. An ounce-equivalent of protein is equal to an ounce of meat, a single egg, or a tablespoon of peanut butter.
Recommended Daily Amount
Children at two to three years of age only need two-ounce equivalents of protein. From four to eight years old, the amount doubles to four-ounce equivalents.
Girls between nine and 18 years old should consume five-ounce equivalents — and the same goes for boys aged nine to 13. Boys between 14 and 18 years old have the highest recommended amount among children with 6.5-ounce equivalents of protein.
The final food group is dairy. Liquid milk products and any food products that use milk belong here. This means that calcium-filled dairy products and those with barely any calcium such as cream cheese and butter are both included. Surprisingly, even soymilk enriched with calcium is part of this food group.
A cup of dairy is equal to a single cup of milk, yogurt, or soymilk. Likewise, two ounces of processed cheese amount to one cup of dairy. If you have natural cheese instead, the equivalent amount is 1.5 ounces.
Recommended Daily Amount
The amount for the dairy group is pretty straightforward. Two to three-year-olds should have two cups of dairy while those between four and eight years old need 2.5 cups. Once kids reach the age of nine all the way up to 18, they should have three cups of dairy every day — there are no differences based on sex.
What about Oils?
Fats stored at room temperature in liquid form are oils. In addition, foods such as avocados, nuts, and several fish species naturally contain oil. Mayonnaise and soft margarine are primarily made of oil. These oils do not form any food group but they do essential nutrients just like the five food groups.
Recommended Daily Amount
Children aged 2-3 years old need only three teaspoons of oil. Once they’re between the ages of four and eight, they can have four teaspoons. Girls between the ages of nine and 18 along with boys aged nine to 13 require five teaspoons of oil. Finally, 14 to 18-year-old boys can consume six teaspoons a day.
B. Meal Planning for Your Kids
Planning out meals for your family every single day might seem daunting but you can do it with efficiency if you plan ahead. Meal planning helps parents save money, reduce food waste, and ensure that their kids get healthy meals all the time. Here are four tips to help you plan your meals.
Here’s a video showing how to prepare a healthy meal for a week:
Identify the Duration
For first-time meal planners, you can opt to create a one-week plan. This will help you become familiar with the process. You can even plan only for lunch or dinner meals. Start with what you think needs to change the most. Is it the meager breakfast food or unhealthy snacks?
Write Down Your Meal Plan
Don’t just keep them in your mind. Write them down using pen and paper. If you want, you can use your smartphone or laptop to edit your plan as quickly as possible. Going digital allows you to easily share your plans to friends and receive suggestions.
Choose Kid-Friendly Healthy Recipes
This is the fun part. Begin checking your favorite cookbooks and cooking websites to find healthy recipes. List them all down before choosing the final meals. Think about which meals you’re okay having as leftovers and which ones your kids would love.
Identify themes to make it easier to plan future meals. Why not make Monday all about chicken while Wednesday gets all the fish? Make Friday night better by focusing on pizza while the weekend is spent on pasta and tacos.
Make Your Shopping List
Finally, list down the ingredients you need. Remember to check your pantry and see which ingredients you already have. This way, you only buy what you don’t have. Organize the list so that your trip to the supermarket is quick.
C. Healthy Kids’ Meals
Being healthy does not mean having to spend a lot of money on expensive food items. The key is to find cheap yet nutritious ingredients for your family. Below, you’ll find examples of affordable healthy meals your kids will surely love..
5-Minute Pumpkin Chia Coconut Granola
If your kids are in a hurry, you can still keep them well-fed with this granola recipe. The variety of ingredients ranging from pumpkin pie spice to maple syrup and coconut flakes will entice your children to have more than one serving.
Breakfast Fried Rice
This recipe is good for four people and is sure to brighten up anyone’s day. It’s a delectable combination of eggs, sausages, onions, peas, and cheddar cheese, among other ingredients. Any leftovers will remain good for eating for up to four days.
Peanut Butter & Jelly Bistro Lunch Box
Kids love PB&J sandwiches, so why not make it a complete meal? This lunch pack includes fresh mango, celery, yogurt parfait, and even popcorn to keep your kid full well until dinnertime.
Peanut Butter Chicken
Who said peanut butter and chicken can’t go well together? This delicious meal is good for four people and takes less than an hour to prepare. Plus, any leftovers can be frozen and used at a later time.
- Slow-Cooker Beef Stew
Parts of meat that aren’t so tender are relatively cheap since they take more time to prepare. But if you have a slow cooker, you can take advantage of the price to have tender cooked beef after several hours.
Bean and Veggie Taco Bowl
You can save money by checking your pantry for any vegetables you already have. Plus, canned black beans and rice are cheap. Your kids will get a load of Vitamin C, Calcium, and folate with this tasty meal.
How to Make Your Kids Eat Healthier
You can help your kids develop healthy eating habits by taking the appropriate steps. Here are just a few tips to take in mind.
Let Your Kids Choose
If they don’t like one vegetable meal, ask them which vegetables they like the most. This allows you to prepare healthy meals containing vegetables your kids are willing to eat.
Take Control of the Portions
Your supervision does not end with cooking the meal. Instead of making them get as little or as much as they want, you should be the one to place the food on their plates. Eventually, they’ll learn from your portioning.
Don’t Reward Your Kids with Food
If you want your kids to do their homework or chores, don’t make them do so by offering chocolates or pizza. This can make them overeat. The better option is to reward them with physical activities or a trip to the mall to catch a movie.
Have a Pediatrician
Don’t just guess about which foods your kids should be eating. Consult a pediatrician so that a medical expert can guide you in the long run. Ask them first before you try any questionable diet plan.
Avoid Restrictions and Learn to Educate
Outright banning their favorite cookies or chips isn’t good. Instead of forcing them to not eat something, you should educate them about the benefits of eating healthy. Inform them about the physical and mental benefits of being healthy.
Look for Healthy Alternatives
Kids will typically choose salty and sweet snacks. But instead of buying them junk foods, why not search for better options? Baked tortilla chips are better than the average potato chips. Likewise, grapes and dried fruit can satisfy their sweet tooth instead of chocolates.
Overall, there are many ways to keep your kids eating healthy. As a parent or any concerned adult, you don’t have to figure things out on your own. Organizations such as the USDA and the CDC provide essential information to help you plan your meals.
We hope that our comprehensive guide helped you a lot in ensuring the good health of your kids. From preparing healthy meals to encouraging better eating habits, there are a lot of things you can do without breaking your wallet.
References and Resources
- Centre For Disease Control and Prevention
- Cancer Research UK
- No Kid Hungry
- Live Strong
- Huffington Post
- Daily Mail
- Pregnancy Birth And Baby
- Only My Health
- Harvard T.H.Chan
- Choose My Plate
- Super Healthy Kids
- The Kitchn
- Eating Well
- BBC Good Food
- Budget Bytes
- Eating Well
- Help Guide