Getting Kids to Eat Healthy Foods

Kids are the toughest food critics, but you can please them with meals that are actually good for them.

Fresh Fruit, Veggies, and Whole Grains

How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids

As my oldest son, Eli, has grown from an independent-minded toddler into a self-determined preschooler, trying to get him to eat the way I want -- with enough of the good stuff and not too much junk food -- has been a challenge, to say the least.

I did everything right from the start, introducing him as a baby to lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats with little to no added sugar or salt. But as he grew, he began cutting back on fruits and vegetables and wanted just plain pasta for dinner or a dry bagel or waffle for breakfast.

Like every busy parent, there are times when I slip and begin relying too much on convenience foods, which tips the whole family's diet out of balance. To get us back on track, I focus on the basic food groups, adding whole foods and taking out the highly processed foods. You, too, can balance your child's eating habits so he gets all of the nutrients he needs to grow and thrive, with less added sugar and fat. Here's a step-by-step guide from nutrition experts and other moms.

Variety Is Key

A balanced diet is one that includes lots of variety from all of the food groups (fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, meats and beans, and oils). But how do you know if you're giving your children adequate amounts? Don't stress. Look at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new Food Guide Pyramid. Its Web site, mypyramid.gov, allows you to type in an age and activity level to get specific recommendations on how much your child should eat from each food group.

The one downside is that the Pyramid only offers information for children over 2 years old. In general, kids between ages 1 and 2 need an average of 900 calories per day from the combined food groups, plus 100 discretionary calories. What are these discretionary calories? Basically, after all the servings from the basic food groups have been met, you can give your kid a reasonably sized treat. Although it could be a sweet, try to satisfy his need for a snack with wholesome foods that fit into the main food groups -- and try to combine two categories. For example, spread peanut butter on apple slices or top sliced pineapple with cottage cheese. Says Melissa Kornfeld, of Atlanta, mom to 2-year-old Kayla: "We stumbled upon freeze-dried green beans at a camping store, and Kayla just loved snacking on them. She also loves dried apples and strawberries for dessert." Toddlers, ages 2 to 3, and preschoolers, ages 3 to 5, need 1,000 calories and 1,200 calories per day, respectively, plus 150 discretionary calories.

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