If you have children who are school age, you should know that healthy eating habits need to be taught to children early in life. Teaching children proper nutrition at a young age will help prevent delays in growth and development, as well as decrease their risk for developing health problems later in life. Recent trends in kids' food consumption show that they are eating more restaurant food, larger portions, and drinking more sugar-sweetened beverages. It is not surprising then, to see an increase in the percentage of kids that are overweight or obese.
When children eat mainly non-nutritious foods, they can suffer from various problems, such as constipation, overweight or obesity, anemia, and difficulties concentrating at school. This can eventually lead to poor academic performance and behavioral problems. Since kids are eating lunch meals, and often breakfast, at school, it is important to be aware of what your child's school is offering him/her. Although all public schools are required to meet dietary standards in the daily breakfast and lunch menus, schools also have the liberty to offer a la carte items that the kids can choose from, which are usually less nutritious options. This is why, as a parent, it is important you set a good example at home so your children can make healthy choices when they have to decide what to eat outside of the home.
Since children's behaviors are heavily influenced by what happens in the home, it's important to have healthy snacks readily available such as dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetables, cereals, and nuts. The amount of calories your children should consume depends on their age and level of physical activity. In general, recommendations suggest that each snack provide 150 calories for preschoolers, 200 calories for elementary school children, and 250 calories for high school-age kids.
What attracts children and adolescents to food is usually not its nutritional value. Kids are more attracted to foods by their color, flavor, and smell. Many food companies that are targeting children and adolescents are aware of this, and make their food packaging and advertisements attractive to this population. Kids are exposed much more often to sodas and potato chips, and other unhealthy snack foods, than healthier options, which may be one reason why they prefer these types of foods. It is important for parents to expose their kids to a variety of healthy foods in the home as much as possible, and teach them the benefits of healthy eating habits. Be sure your children eat a well-balanced breakfast, whether it is at home or at school. Breakfast gives kids energy to start the day, promotes their ability to focus, and maintains their energy level during recess time.
In addition to encouraging and teaching their children healthy eating habits, parents should also encourage their children to exercise. It is very important for all children to engage in physical activity. Provide opportunities for your kids to be active when they get home from school, and on the weekends. Include options above and beyond team sports, in case they do not like those specific activities. Every child's likes and dislikes are different. They may need their parents help and encouragement to try something new in order to find the activity that is right for them.
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