By: Domonique Ayarra-Sykes, Coordinator Child Nutrition Programs, Idaho State Department of Education

During the Month of March, we look at how to help children make healthy eating choices.

Healthy habits begin in the home, but what about when your children leave the house?  The marketing and advertising of unhealthy foods is everywhere!  It is up to parents to teach children about making good choices when it comes to nutrition, but where to begin?

How can we help kids M.O.V.E. U.P. to the next level of healthy eating? Try these tips below.

M-Model the practice of healthy eating habits-If you do not like to eat vegetables, how will your kids learn to love them?  Children learn by watching you and it is important for parents to remember that they purchase and supply the food in the home. Making better choices at the grocery store will make modeling better choices easier at home.

O– Offer a variety of healthy foods.  Pay attention to whole grains and whole fruits and vegetables in different forms.  Think whole foods for a whole body.  If your child does not like cooked broccoli, how about raw broccoli (little trees)? Frozen peas can be defrosted in cold water for a few minutes and eaten as a sweet crisp snack.  Use a potato peeler to make carrot ribbons that kids can eat with their fingers.

V-Vary your veggies. Once you have found vegetables that your children will eat, encourage them to try new vegetables by incorporating a new item into the family menu.  Focus on local produce grown in Idaho and attach a learning lesson to the vegetable.  Did you know that asparagus can grow up to ten inches in one 24 hour day?  Google a time lapse video of asparagus growing and play it for your children. Find out what is in season with the USDA Seasonal Produce Guide.

E-Eat together. Sitting down to a meal allows family members to reconnect and share events of the day, but does not have to be kept to only the dinner hour.  Busy schedules may cut into the traditional family dinner hour, but what about an afternoon snack or weekend brunch?  Keep mealtime focused on family by having kids share in the preparation, set up or cleanup of food.  Make silly rhymes or sing songs to younger children.  Encourage children to eat vegetables by talking about how the food will keep them from getting sick, help their bodies grow big and strong, and help their brains think really hard. Try this family friendly rainbow pizza recipe. 

U-Understand that change takes time.  Nobody likes to be told what to do, including children. Children enjoy food when eating it is their own choice.  Help them serve themselves by using serving utensils that will fit into smaller hands.  Let children take small amounts and give them time when trying new foods.  Offer new foods many times and never use food as a reward.  Instead, reward children with something physical and fun. Remember, as soon as your children leave the house, they are being inundated with advertisements to eat processed foods in monstrous proportions.  Take small steps and be patient.

P-Portion snack foods into baggies or containers with ready to eat vegetables containing carrots, celery, red, orange and yellow bell pepper slices, grape tomatoes, cucumber wheels, or whatever vegetables your kids will eat.  Keep them on the shelf of the refrigerator that is easiest to reach for the age and height of your children.  It is not necessary to drown food with sauces, dips or dressings as kids will adjust to what they are exposed to.  Have children help with the preparation by washing the vegetables or putting them in the baggies or containers.

Forming healthy eating habits takes time, but of all the things that your children may or may not do in their lifetimes, they will eat, every single day.  Helping them learn to make good choices now, will impact them for the rest of their lives.

Enjoy!

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