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Getting children to eat a healthy, balanced diet can be tricky. Most are drawn to foods that are often full of sugar, high in fat and heavily processed. It’s no surprise children gravitate to these types of foods. Food companies direct their marketing right at them using bright colors, catchy songs and favorite cartoon characters. Not to mention the convenience and accessibility of these foods make them staples in school lunch boxes and during the busy afternoon rush.

Most parents understand why their children prefer these popular foods over the fruits and vegetables they are bribing them to eat, but what they really want to know is how to expand those picky palates.

Start by teaching children that everything they eat and drink can help them stay healthy today and in the future. Focus more on what nutritious foods can do instead of the negative effects of their unhealthy counterparts. Help them understand carbohydrates give our body the energy we need to run, jump and play, proteins help build strong muscles, and fats support brain growth and development.

The USDA’s MyPlate diagram focuses on the five good groups that are the building blocks of a nutritious and balanced diet. It also gives children (and parents) a familiar visual to recall each time they sit down for a meal or snack. MyPlate is divided into sections representing fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.

When it comes to fruits and vegetables, MyPlate reminds us that we should all be eating more of them. Half of the plate should be filled with a variety of fresh, frozen or canned produce.

Grains should take up just a little over a fourth of the plate and whole grains are best. The goal should be to make half your grains whole grains, so switching from white to wheat bread and eating more oatmeal are all good ideas.

MyPlate teaches us that protein should only fill up less than one fourth of our plate. A variety of protein sources is best, including chicken, turkey, lean cuts of beef, eggs and nuts.

Dairy is the final piece of the MyPlate puzzle, and includes fat-free or low-fat milk, cheese and yogurts.

Teaching children these basics about nutrition will give them the language, imagery and understanding to make healthier choices for the rest of their lives.

Baked blueberry oatmeal cups

Ingredients

2 cup – oats, dry

1 teaspoon – baking powder

1/2 teaspoon – salt

1 teaspoon – cinnamon

1/2 cup – banana

2 tablespoon – coconut oil

1 cup – milk

2 tablespoon – honey

1/2 teaspoon – vanilla extract

1 medium – egg

1 cup – blueberries

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a muffins pan.

2. In a medium bowl, add oats, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

3. In a separate bowl, mash banana, add coconut oil, milk, honey, vanilla extract and eggs.

4. Combine wet and dry ingredients and then fold in blueberries. You can use fresh or frozen berries.

5. Fill muffins tins evenly; they won’t rise too much, so you don’t need to leave room for rising. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Taryn Palmer is a registered dietitian for the Magic Valley YMCA.

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