6 Healthy Food Rules to Start Implementing with Your Kids Now

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by Kaetlin Zink

Now more than ever, obesity is a rising problem among American adolescents. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the prevalence of obesity among children between the ages of six and 11 has grown from 7% in 1980 to 20% in 2008. For those between 12 and 19, the prevalence of obesity has more than tripled over a three-decade period, increasing from 5% to 18%.

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It should come as no surprise that poor dietary habits are one of the leading contributors to this widespread problem. Some of the common health risks that coincide with childhood obesity include

  • Higher blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure
  • Metabolic syndrome (a combination of health conditions that increase chances of developing heart diseases and other related issues)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Diminished self-esteem associated with poor social and psychological problems
  • Orthopedic issues
  • Type 2 diabetes

Being overweight when young significantly increases your son or daughter’s odds of developing obesity and other chronic diseases as they grow into adulthood. Establishing healthy food rules early on with our children can encourage health-conscious attitudes and behaviors toward food later in life.

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Your Teens May Actually Be Listening

Recent research conducted by Stanford University suggests that teens whose parents enforce at least one health-oriented food rule have a higher likelihood to choose healthier food when making independent food choices. Why? Because these rules help them understand that food consciousness on some level is important.

The study examined over 1,200 high schoolers who were asked to report how many healthy food rules they had at home. They were then asked to pick two snacks out of ten: five of the snacks were less healthy (Cheetos, Oreos, and gummy worms), and five were healthier (yogurt, hummus with pretzels, and apple slices). Some students were told they would need parental approval to eat the snacks, and some were told they wouldn’t.

The results showed overwhelmingly that, despite parental oversight, students with any rules at home were significantly more likely to make the better decision. They even reported feeling better when they made good food decisions and bad when making unhealthy decisions.

“Having a health-oriented food rule at home may give kids a roadmap for making healthier food choices when they’re out on their own,” reports researcher, Priya Fielding-Singh, doctoral candidate from Stanford University.

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Healthy Food Rules at Home

Enforcing what may seem like an unpopular food rule now for your kids has the power to bring lasting benefits in the end.

Registered Food Nutritionist, Karyn Duggan shares tips on how to introduce healthy habits at a young age. Implementing these essential health-related food rules at home will help generate healthier eating habits and overall healthiness among children and teens:

1). Enforce a balanced breakfast

Breakfast still remains the most important meal of the day. Though it’s easier said than done, starting each morning with a balanced meal consisting of protein, healthy fats, and some carbohydrates is ideal for kickstarting metabolism. Eating breakfast even enhances brain function and helps you make better food choices throughout the rest of the day.

Give some of these healthy breakfasts a try: scrambled eggs with toast, oatmeal with apple slices, whole grain pancakes or waffles with fruit on top, or a whole grain bagel with low-fat cream cheese and milk.

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Whole grain waffles with fresh fruit

2). Make the switch to whole grains

While some people think it’s better to skip the carbs entirely when going on a diet, it’s actually much wiser to switch to brown carbohydrates, filled with essential fiber and nutrients. Things like brown rice, whole wheat, oatmeal, beans, and quinoa all contain whole grains. An easy swap is putting the PB&J on whole grain instead of white bread.

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Sandwich on whole grain bread

3). Always include vegetables

Even if Zoey is resistant to eating vegetables, try to get her to eat at least one type of vegetable or leafy green, even if that means making meals that mix veggies in with other stuff to help mask the flavor. Along with a sizable portion of vegetables and leafy greens (like broccoli, kale, or spinach), a healthy meal should also include a type of protein (meat, fish, eggs, etc.) and a type of whole grain listed above. Try some spinach lasagna, lemon and herb baked salmon with a side of veggies over brown rice, or fish and avocado tacos.

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Bow-tie noodles (preferably whole grain) with sauteed spinach

4). Place limitations on salt and sugar intake

While much of our kids’ salt and sugar consumption comes from sugary/salty treats, we often underestimate the amount of salt and sugar that are packed in processed foods. That’s why it’s important to limit the amount of packaged, processed foods your family is consuming by making home-prepared meals and snacks as often as you can. Though processed meals take much less time, prepared meals at home are the quicker path to a healthier lifestyle.

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Make-your-own pizza is always a great option! It’s fun for the kids and almost always healthier than buying pizza out.

5). Be wary when dining out

Approach restaurant menus with caution, and dine out only on occasion. Even menu options that claim to be healthier can sometimes be doused in butter or a heavy dressing/ sauce. Portion sizes also tend to be bigger. Don’t be afraid to ask your server about more specifics regarding how the meal will be prepared, as well as requesting that any dressing or sauce be placed on the side.

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When you do dine out, be cautious of menu ingredients 

6). Have a plan when grocery shopping

One of the worst mistakes people make, besides going to the store on an empty stomach, is going to the store without a prepared list of food items. Without a list, it is easy for shoppers to get side-tracked, looking down every aisle for help and oftentimes grabbing more than necessary. To avoid getting enticed, stay focused by sticking to the written list and only go down the aisles that have the specific foods you’re looking for.

Being prepared when the kids go with you will also help influence how they view food shopping. Try letting them pick three snacks ahead of time and see to it that they don’t get beyond what they plan for.


While children can often be stubborn about eating healthy, don’t wait to set guidelines that will help them make food choices with healthiness in mind. The sooner you start following these tips, the sooner your child or adolescent will start changing their dietary habits for the better.

 


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