Teach your children to “Savor the Flavor”

March 1st, 2016 by Live Well Omaha Kids

Written by Stephanie Rupp, RDN, LD, LMNT

Nutrition is important all year, but every March we draw special attention to the importance of eating right during National Nutrition Month.  While most everyone has an opinion on what eating right is, this month presents the opportunity to dive into the serious topic of how to feed children and halt or prevent childhood obesity.

Conditions – including obesity – that used to only affect adults now are being observed in children.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 17% (or 12.7 million) of children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 years old are obese.  Childhood obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile of the sex-specific CDC BMI-for-age growth charts.  Your child’s growth chart should be tracked at his or her pediatrician’s office.  Childhood obesity is concerning since it puts children at an increased risk for chronic diseases including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.

NNM16WebBanner300x250Parents want the best for their children, so this National Nutrition Month teach your children to “Savor the Flavor” of eating right by leading by example.  In eating right, we can reduce childhood obesity and the devastating toll it takes on physical, mental and emotional health.

If your child is overweight or obese, there is no need to focus on weight loss at this time.  Instead, focus on feeding your child balanced meals so he or she can maintain weight while growing taller.  Weight loss is not desired in children since it could disrupt normal growth.  However, by maintaining their weight while still growing taller, their BMI will decrease, thus putting them at a healthier weight.

Parents often ask how they can feed their children well to support healthy weights.   When feeding children it is important to remember the Division in the Responsibility of Feeding.  It is the parent’s responsibility to choose and prepare food, provide regular meals and snacks, make eating times pleasant and offer chances to learn new skills.  It is up to each child to choose a variety of foods from what parents offer and know how much to eat in order to grow predictably.

For parents, the focus should be on providing consistent meals and nutritious foods.  Parents can offer balanced meals and snacks by pairing MyPlate food groups.  Two food groups creates a balanced snack and three or more food groups are considered a meal.  The MyPlate food groups include: fruit, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy.

Many parents still want to know “how much?”  Portion size varies for children as they grow.  An easy way to determine how much food a child needs is to look at his or her hands.  A snack should be about the size of his hand, fingers closed, and a meal should be about the size of her two hands, fingers closed. Adults can use this method too.

For meals, one palm should be lean protein, the other palm should be a whole grain, and fingers should be fruits and veggies.  If still hungry, spread the fingers – there is room for more fruits and veggies!  I recommend placing fruit and veggies on the table while leaving the other foods on the counter or the stove.  If a child is still hungry, encourage more fruits and veggies since they are already on the table.  Be sure to offer fruit and veggies with dinner meals and include low-fat dairy either as milk, yogurt or cheese.  Always opt for water or white milk instead of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages.   Children may not eat much at a meal and that is okay since they will know another meal will be served soon.

Snack examples could be an apple or celery with nut butter or whole-grain crackers with a string cheese stick.  These snack examples pair fruit, veggies or whole grains with proteins.   Parents can offer fresh, canned or frozen no-sugar-added fruit as snacks in place of foods with added sugars and empty calories such as cookies and other snack foods.  The natural sweetness in fruit satisfies while also providing essential nutrients.  While cookies, chips and other less nutritious snack foods are not everyday foods, they can be part of a healthy, balanced diet when reserved for special occasions or enjoyed less frequently.

Parents should also avoid using food as a reward or forcing children to eat.  In respecting children and allowing them to eat, we promote positive relationships with food.  Food is nourishment and every child deserves the opportunity to fuel their body with healthy foods.

As the month of March quickly passes, take the opportunity to look at your plate and make any changes that will improve the health of your children and yourself. Download a handy Healthy Shopping List (pdf).

To learn more about National Nutrition Month and feeding children, meet with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).  Each Hy-Vee in Omaha and the surrounding area has at least one RDN on staff, and your pediatrician should also be able to recommend an RDN.


References:  U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. & Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, LCSW, BCD.  Division in the Responsibility of Feeding. 

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About the Author:

Stephanie received her Bachelor of Science degree in dietetics from Iowa State University and completed her dietetic internship at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics.  She is currently working toward her Master’s degree in dietetics at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. 

Stephanie provides creative and realistic ways to incorporate healthy eating practices for all lifestyles. With a passion for family meals and overall wellness, she has a wealth of information to help everyone from busy families with young children to older adults. Stephanie is also interested in integrative and functional medicine and practices a holistic, personalized approach to nutrition, health and healing.   Stephanie is a Produce for Better Health (PBH) 2015 Supermarket Dietitian of the Year and you can find her within the aisles at Hy-Vee helping customers live easier, healthier, happier lives.

Stephanie is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Nebraska Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the Omaha District of the Nebraska Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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