When I was in my early twenties, I was a live-in nanny for two teenagers and a pre-teen. Those first few weeks became a crash-course in cooking, kids’ nutrition and let’s be honest, survival. (Mine, not theirs.) I quickly discovered that the recipes I was accustomed to cooking for my friends and myself didn’t cut it with these kids. Their needs and tastes were not only different from mine but also different from one another’s. I stumbled along in the dark those first few months, trying to grasp around for information and inspiration on what the kids would and should eat.
Lucky for you however, Whole Foods Market® has pulled together a primer in nutrition for kids and teens, making it much easier to get through the meals and milestones of childhood.
Preschool to Preteen: Model Positive Habits
For this age group, maintaining positive habits at home is especially important. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Make sure every bite your child eats is as nutrient dense as possible. Allowing them to fill up on non-nutritive calories (like too much juice, for instance) can displace the nutritious foods they would have otherwise eaten.
- Choose whole grains and whole grain products (breads, pastas, brown rice, bulgur, oatmeal) instead of refined grain products.
- Limit access to "junk" foods, but provide some alternative sweet options. Making all sweets forbidden may only intensify a child's attraction to them.
- Model good nutrition choices. If you choose fries instead of a baked potato, you can't expect them to do the opposite.
- Fill nutrition gaps with a range of healthy snacks. What your child eats between meals is just as important as what is eaten during meals.
- Discourage the habit of eating and watching television simultaneously. Consider limiting T.V., which has been linked with childhood and adolescent obesity.
- For older children and adolescents concerned about their weight, teach them that physical activity (rather than dieting) is the best route for weight loss.
Teens: Keep the Benefits in Mind
Prevent your teenager’s diet from being a wasteland of empty calories by explaining the benefits of eating well. Use motivating examples, like improved performance in school, sports or their favorite creative outlet. Here are some tips to remember and share with your teen:
- Teens need more vitamin C, calcium and iron than adults.
- Getting enough calcium, along with magnesium and vitamin D, is important for bone support.
- For healthy skin, teens need lots of nutrients, water, fiber and essential fats — and less sugar and highly processed foods and drinks.
- Teens who eat on the run, are active in sports or are concerned about weight should consider a good supplement to help fill the gaps in their nutrient intake.
- The teen years can be very stressful. (You remember, don’t you?) Stress can wreak havoc on skin, moods and eating habits. Help your teen learn coping skills for stress.
Nutrition Tips for Young Vegetarians
One of the children I minded declared at 14 that she was no longer going to eat meat. We respected her wishes but wisely refused to accept her desire to only eat pasta and pizza in place of meat. For children, whose bodies are still developing and who may consume a limited variety of foods compared to most adults, many experts recommend paying special attention to potential dietary weaknesses that may come from consuming only plant-based foods.
Nutrients to keep tabs on include: protein, iron, B vitamins, zinc, iodine and essential fatty acids, as well as calcium and vitamin D. Remember, eating vegetarian doesn't automatically mean healthy eating. Help your child identify their favorite nutrient dense foods for optimal health. Check out more information on plant-strong diets on our Health Starts Here pages.
A is for Apple…
Whether it’s a fresh dish or an ingredient swap-out in a family-favorite recipe, back to school is a great time to try something new and nutritious at mealtime. In our online recipe collection, we’ve got enough delicious ideas to last you till midterms. Here’s a taste:
I Break For Nutritious Breakfasts!
Looking for additional nutrition tips, recipes and inspiration for main meals and snacks in-between? Check out our other Back to School posts for back to the kitchen basics. (No pop quizzes, I promise.) What tips or recipes can you share with other parents looking to improve mealtime and start building healthy eating habits?