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Eating habits

It’s important for children to eat well in order to get all the nutrients they need to grow and develop. Eating well and being active every day can also help kids have a healthy weight. In Canada, overweight and obesity among children and teens is increasing. And so, health problems related to being overweight are now happening at a much earlier age. And being overweight or obese later in life increases the risk of certain cancers.

We know it isn’t always easy to fit healthy food choices into busy days. With a little effort, healthy choices will become regular choices. Helping your kids eat well now will make them more likely to eat well as they get older. Making healthy eating choices yourself is a good way to begin. Start small and be patient. You may have to introduce your kids to a new food many times before they decide to try it.

Another good strategy is to involve your children when making food choices at the grocery store. For example, start by asking them to pick out a vegetable or fruit. Talk to them about why they chose it and let them try it as a snack or suggest how to use it at mealtime. You can also use a shopping trip to show them how reading food labels is a good way to make healthy food choices. Major grocery stores and local community centres in many cities offer special cooking classes for children – sign yours up if they’re interested! (You might even get out of cooking dinner!)

Tips
  • Set regular times for meals and healthy snacks. Kids tend to snack more when there’s no real schedule and are more likely to reach for sugary or salty treats.
  • Plan to eat at least one meal together as a family every day. If this seems impossible with a busy activity schedule, be creative. Try a picnic after a game or practice. Or set aside one night a week as family dinner night.
  • Encourage your child to eat slowly. When we eat too quickly, our body thinks it needs more food to feel full.
  • Get the kids involved when you’re cooking. They can help with simple tasks like washing the vegetables, stirring soup or putting toppings on pizza.
  • Remind kids to drink fluids, preferably water, throughout the day. Young children are at a higher risk of becoming dehydrated. Save drinks like pop and juice for special occasions. 
  • Getting kids to eat vegetables and fruit each day

    Canada’s Food Guide recommends that younger kids eat 4 to 6 servings of vegetables and fruit each day. Teens need 7 to 8 servings.

    Tips
    • Offer a choice of vegetables and fruit at mealtime. Kids like to decide. They also like to crunch! Try raw carrots, cut-up peppers and apple or pear slices as a snack. Serve vegetables and fruit in bite-sized pieces so they’re more tempting to try. Add some yogurt for dipping.
    • Make vegetables and fruit fun. Cut them into shapes, or make a happy face with veggie slices. Remember that raw, fresh, dried, canned and frozen all add up. If your child won’t eat cooked peas, serve them raw and see what happens.
    • Grow some vegetables of your own and let the kids help. Container gardening is easy and the kids will get to eat what they grow.
    • Visit a local farmers’ market to check out what’s in season. It’s a good way to learn about where your food comes from and get some fresh produce at the same time.
    • Toss veggies into soups and slow-cooker meals. Chop them up into rice dishes or blend them into pasta sauces. Use the blender or food processor to hide vegetables in foods like spaghetti sauce, chili, soup, curry, or shepherd’s pie. Pureed fruit or shredded veggies can be added into muffin and pancake batters too.
    • Make popsicles. Mix vanilla yogurt and fruit such as strawberries, mango or banana in a blender. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze.
    • Create your own trail mix with nuts, seeds, wholegrain cereals and a serving of dried fruit such as raisins, figs or apricots.
    • Make a smoothie for breakfast or a snack. Combine fruit, milk, soy milk or rice milk, yogurt and ice in a blender. Blend until smooth and drink.
    • Use peer pressure to your advantage. Kids are more likely to eat a vegetable or fruit they don’t like once they see one of their friends eating it.

    Be careful about juice, even if it’s 100% juice. It’s full of sugar and calories and can fill kids up fast. For a snack, offer fruit (which is full of fibre) instead of fruit juice. If you offer juice, make it a small amount.

    Set regular times for meals and healthy snacks. Kids tend to snack more when there’s no real schedule and are more likely to reach for sugary treats.

  • What about breakfast?

    During the week, we’re often rushing to get up, get dressed and get organized for the day before we get out the door. This can make breakfast a challenge. But starting the day with a healthy breakfast can give your kids the energy they need to stay focused at school and other activities.

    With a little planning, a nutritious breakfast is easy. Make a big batch of oatmeal (without sugar) the night before. Heat up and top with yogurt. Try different grains like quinoa or steel-cut oats too. Whole-grain toast with peanut or other nut butter is also a good choice. For kids that like lighter fare, try yogurt with pre-cut fruit and nuts.

    On weekends, have kids help prepare breakfast for the whole family. Start off simple and get more advanced as they learn their way around the kitchen.

    Make sure you eat breakfast yourself – showing them healthy eating habits will help children adopt healthy behaviours in their adult lives.

  • Easy lunchtime tips

    Get your children involved. They can help you prepare lunches in the morning or the night before. Kids can clean out their lunch bag, wash veggies and fruit, help cut them up and pack them as healthy snacks.

    Sandwiches can be cut into different shapes. Or you can swap sliced bread for pita, tortilla wraps or bagels. Even the same old fillings will taste better if it doesn’t look so much like a sandwich.

    Use small containers. Pack some crackers plus cheese or pita wedges with salsa or guacamole, and let your kids put snacks together themselves. Cut-up veggies and fruit also work as a quick pick-me-up at afternoon recess or when grabbing books between classes at their locker.

    Pack a thermos in your kid’s lunch bag. Make a batch of soup on the weekend and heat it up for their lunch. Leftovers like veggie-fried rice, noodles and pastas, or curries work, too.

    Share lunch ideas with other parents.

  • Healthy snacks for kids

    With their small stomachs, younger children can’t always meet their nutritional needs at mealtimes. Even older kids need energy in between meals to keep going. Healthy snacks can give kids a boost, especially after school or when going to and from activities.

    Healthy anytime snacks
    • bite-sized vegetables (carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, broccoli florets, celery sticks)
    • whole wheat pita with hummus or bean dip
    • whole grain toast with fruit spread or nut butter
    • cheese and whole grain crackers
    • a bowl of whole grain cereal and milk, topped with berries
    • yogurt with granola topping
    • fresh fruit or fruit cups
    • yogurt smoothie
    • popsicles made with 100% fruit juice or yogurt

    Keep healthy snacks and drinks handy – pack them in your bag or backpack and on car journeys. Try items such as mini rice cakes, dry breakfast cereal or nuts and raisins in a re-sealable bag along with water. You can then grab them quickly and won’t be tempted to buy less healthy choices (like chips or chocolate) when you’re rushing from place to place.

    Limit the competition

    If your cupboards are filled with cookies and potato chips, healthier choices are more likely to go untouched.

  • Eat well on a budget

    With a little planning, you can make your money stretch the next time you’re out grocery shopping for your family. Good nutrition doesn’t have to mean paying more for groceries! 

    Tips
    • Review weekly store sales to plan weekly meals.
    • Buy in bulk.
    • Make food from scratch and eat in. Take-out most nights of the week can add up.
    • Cook large batches of your favourite meals and freeze the leftovers.
    • Have your children help you plant a vegetable garden. Pick your own produce and eat it right away throughout the summer. Or freeze berries and veggies for use during the winter months.
    • Buy vegetables and fruit in season. Locally grown is often cheaper and is usually fresher. Signs posted in your grocery store or market should tell you where the produce is from. Or shop at a local farmers market.
    • Pick your own – a trip your family can do together and a great way to teach your kids about where their food is grown.
    • Buy frozen veggies instead of fresh when they aren’t in season.
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