Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What Every Parent Should Know About Nutrition

Raising happy healthy children is at the top of any parent’s priority list.  To be able to provide for our children and give them the best start they can possibly have is extremely important.  In a day where childhood obesity and diabetes rates are skyrocketing, it is vital to not only know about proper nutrition for our children but to also teach them by modeling it ourselves.  With so much mixed information available about nutrition it is hard to know where to start and what foods to be introducing.  Children’s nutritional needs can vary greatly from our own and it is important as parents to understand what those differences are and how to address them.

So what exactly is proper nutrition?  The textbook definition of nutrition is the process of providing or obtaining the proper food necessary for health and growth.  Sounds easy enough, but depending on where you garner your information from it can get pretty confusing.  There are many wonderful resources to turn to for great nutritional advice and guidance available in local libraries, online and in bookstores.  Talking with your family doctor about reliable resources would also be a great place to start.  Our role as parents is to help guide and teach our children about what proper food choices are and to make those choices readily available.  Learning about proper nutrition and which foods give the greatest nutritional punch can be a very fun and interesting family experiment.  Even if you have a picky eater in your house, experimenting with food and food choices can really help broaden a picky eater’s palate, especially when they get to help and get involved with the whole process.  Kids are more apt to try something new if they had a hand in helping prepare the new foods than opposed to just having it presented to them without any knowledge of it. 

According to the USDA My Food Pyramid Program, children should be getting their daily nutrition from sources such as grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, meat and legumes.  The more varied the diet the better the nutritional punch.  Some great examples of foods that deliver an exceptional nutritional value are things like kale, salmon, garlic, blueberries, eggs and even dark chocolate in moderation.  Kale is one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet coming in at a whopping 2 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein and only 50 calories per 100 gram serving.  Kale is loaded with many nutrients such as Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin K1, Vitamin B6, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Copper and Manganese.  While not every child will go crazy over kale, there are plenty of other green leafy vegetables to choose from that will provide nutritional value.  Experimenting to find the right one that will not only help bring in great nutrition but also agree with your child’s appetite.  As was the case of Cecilia from Fort Worth, Texas.  She was having a heck of a time getting her two children to try anything new, especially anything green, so she had to get creative.  Her children were definitely not going to eat a big kale or spinach salad so she started baking the kale and spinach into some of her children’s favorite dishes like lasagna.  To her amazement they loved it.  She took the experiment even further by making a snack out of kale leaves by baking them with a few seasonings in the oven until crisp.  Her children gobbled them up and the “kale chips” soon became a snack her children begged for.  By getting creative Cecilia was able to provide great nutrition for her kids and also taught them that experimenting with food can be fun and exciting.  Blueberries are another extremely powerful nutrient dense food that children seem to love to snack on.  They are packed full of powerful antioxidants that help the body fight off infections and disease.  Coming in at only 85 calories for a 1 cup serving this is a great snack option for anytime of the day.

Another great way to stay informed and in the know about your children’s nutrition is to get very familiar with food labels and what all those extra ingredients are.  When you see an ingredient list a mile long and can’t pronounce any of them, you may want to leave the product on the shelf.  The more ingredients a product has in it the greater probability it is loaded with lots of preservatives, dyes and chemicals.   According to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011.  This figure is staggering and many studies are starting to link the allergies and their rise to the excess chemicals, pesticides, and growth hormones that are being sprayed, injected and used as preservatives in our food.  If you feel your child is suffering from a food allergy or that your child is not getting their nutritional needs met it might be a good time to talk to your family doctor or even a nutritionist.  Working together, you will be able to come up with a plan tailored to your child’s needs, under supervision and with a diet plan that works and is safe for your child.  

Being informed and educated about nutrition and its benefits and risk factors will help keep your child’s health in prime condition.  While it may not guarantee they will never get sick it does give them a leg up in recovering from illnesses.  Investing in good health is always a benefit that your kids will thank you for as they get older.  Not only will they develop healthy habits early on in life but as they grow older and have kids of their own, they will be able to pass on what they have learned and generate another generation of healthy children.             

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