Eat right at any age – and teach your children to do the same
Whether you want to lose weight, maintain your current healthy weight or help your children grow up healthy and strong, proper nutrition plays a key role in meeting these goals. It’s important to understand what – and how much – you should be eating and drinking as well as how to set your children up for a lifetime of healthy nutrition habits.
Eating for weight loss or maintenance as an adult
You might remember learning about the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Guide Pyramid when you were growing up, and you also might recall hearing that it was replaced by something called MyPlate in 2011. My Plate provides an easy visual aid for how you should fill your plate at each meal. It promotes eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, which should cover half of the plate. Grains occupy a quarter of the plate, as do protein sources such as meat, fish and poultry. A glass of milk rests to the side, and desserts are nowhere in sight.
It is important to note however, that this perfect plate is something to strive for most of the time, while allowing exceptions for the occasional indulgence. If you commit to a meal plan that makes you feel constantly deprived, chances are, you will not stick to it long-term. Your best bet is to eat healthful, nutrient dense foods most of the time, but also learn how to incorporate treats in moderation. MyPlate.gov has determined how many empty calories (calories that do not offer any nutritional benefit) are acceptable at different ages – as seen in the following table:
The USDA advises us to focus on variety, amount and nutrition, choose foods and beverages with less saturated fat, sodium and added sugars, and to start with small changes to build healthier eating styles.
Visit choosemyplate.gov for a wealth of information on nutrition, including access to the MyPlate Checklist Calculator, which can help you calculate your personal calorie needs. Armed with that information, you can click through to your personalized Food pattern and plan for maintaining or achieving a healthy weight, which will tell you how many servings you should eat from each food group. You can even use MyPlate’s online SuperTrackerto help you plan, analyze and track your diet and physical activity. You might also want to check out this article on Easy Tips for Healthy Choices for the Men in Your Family to introduce healthy food options to them.
Helping your kids establish healthy eating habits
If you have children or grandchildren, you have an opportunity to help them develop healthy habits right from the start. Childhood is such an important time for proper nutrition because children are growing and developing at a rapid rate and need essential nutrients to fuel that growth.
“Parents, most often moms, are the gatekeepers for their families,” said Lindsay Brin, C.P.T., B.S.E. Exercise Science, creator of Moms Into Fitness. Ms. Brin is an internationally published author and sought-after fitness professional in the prenatal and postnatal field. She has starred in and choreographed 56 fitness DVDs designed for moms, based on her research with major universities. “When your kids are little, you control their access to food. You can look at this as a lot of pressure or as a wonderful opportunity.”
Following are some recommendations from Ms. Brin and her team of dietitians at Moms Into Fitness:
- Make sure your kids regularly consume foods containing the top nutrients – calcium, fiber, protein, iron, antioxidants and omega-3s.
- Feed your kids balanced meals using the plate method.
- Do not force children to clean their plates.
- Eat as a family at the table with no distractions.
- Encourage kids to help prepare their meals and snacks.
- Remember that it is normal for toddlers to be picky eaters. As long as they are growing appropriately, it is nothing to be immediately concerned about.
- Be prepared to offer new foods 10-12 times.
- Try various preparation methods.
- Only offer one new food at a time and serve with familiar foods your child already likes.
- Limit milk to two cups per day, juice to a maximum of 4 ounces per day, and do not allow children to drink diet or regular soda daily.
- Learn the appropriate portion sizes and servings per day your kids should eat from each food group. Portion sizes for kids are different than those for adults and often different from the serving sizes you see on most nutrition labels.
What about snacks?
While mindless snacking throughout the day or snacking on a lot of junk food is not healthy, thoughtfully
planned snacks can be a wonderful way to meet your family’s nutritional needs. Treat snacks like mini meals, and if you do serve yourself or your loved ones a convenience item such as pretzels, crackers or a granola bar, pair it with some produce, protein or dairy.
Whether you are heading to the zoo or museum for the day, meeting friends for an afternoon play date or perhaps just running some errands, plan ahead and pack snacks from home.
“By providing most foods from home and balancing your plate, you are able to also limit some of the most notorious dietary dangers – excess sodium, saturated fats and added sugars,” Ms. Brin said.
Non-perishable snacks might seem to be the most convenient items to pack, but if you invest in a few thermoses, some ice packs and an insulated lunch tote or small cooler, you can easily bring along string cheese, yogurt, fruit, and veggies with hummus or other dips. You can even skip the drive-thru on a full-day excursion by packing sandwiches, salads and soups.
Pay attention to the calories you and your children are drinking too. Age, weight, gender, activity level, and even outside temperature can impact how much fluid your child needs, Ms. Brin explains, however, most children need between six to eight cups of non-caffeinated, non-sugary fluids each day - water is best! If your kiddo is exceptionally active be sure they have water to drink while exercising and encourage them to drink often.
Moms into Fitness reports that the Institute of Medicine recommends:
Don’t forget to walk the walk rather than just talking the talk. Your kids will notice if you preach good nutrition to them and serve them healthy foods but don’t follow the same nutrition guidelines yourself. Commit to healthy eating for the entire family. Bookmark this article as a handy reference, and try not to get overwhelmed – eating healthy really doesn’t have to be hard.
“It is information overload out there!” Ms. Brin said. “Don't get too wrapped up in it – you know what is best. Aim for foods closest to their natural state, and stay away from artificial dyes, added sugars, etc. At the same time you shouldn't eliminate treats, but teach your kids moderation.”
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