Teaching Parents About Childhood Nutrition

teaching kids about healthy eatingChildhood obesity rates are on the rise, but there’s only so much that healthcare providers can do. Doctors and nurses can share information about diet and exercise, but children model what they see. That’s why, for parents, it’s important to show kids how to eat a healthy diet. By involving children in shopping and cooking, parents can counteract powerful messages from food marketers. Healthcare providers can’t prepare dinner for patients, but they can prepare parents to model behaviors that promote healthy lifestyles.

In “Good Nutrition Starts at Home”, an article in Exceptional Parent magazine, authors Erin Vlasak, M.S. and Gina Frisina, M.S.E.D. provide some specific strategies. For example, by placing colorful fruits and vegetables on the kitchen counter, parents can encourage kids to keep out of cabinets that contain higher calorie snacks. Parents can also show children how to read food labels, and explain why what the human body needs isn’t what every food item provides.

Vlasak, the Director of Student Support Services for the New York Institute of Technology-Vocational Independence Program (NYIT-VIP), and Frisina, the Director of Independent Living for NYIT-VIP, favor a hands-on approach. Instead of just telling children to “eat healthy”, Vlasak and Frisna suggest involving kids in activities such as making a grocery list or chopping vegetables. There’s plenty of room for parents and children to have fun, too. For example, a game of “Food Fear Factor” can challenge kids to try new foods.

Children who still prefer junk food aren’t the only challenge that parents face. Portion sizes have increased dramatically in the last 20 years, and so have the number of messages from food marketers. For parents, it’s important to talk about food in terms that kids understand. For example, a cup of cereal is about the size of a hockey puck. A serving of uncooked pasta or rice is half a baseball. Parents can also model active lifestyles while reminding kids that eating right means not having to burn so many calories.

As a healthcare provider, do you plan to share some of these strategies with your patients? What other advice would you give to parents about what they can do at home to help their kids develop healthy habits?

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