Encourage your kids to eat more whole fruits and vegetables with these nutritious snacks and help lay the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating habits.
After my daughter Sienna was born, I started making my own baby food. After all, I’m a chef, and making meals for her just felt like an extension of what I was already doing. When she was younger, she would sit in her high chair and watch me cook. Now that she’s a little older, she’s an active participant in the kitchen—my little sous chef. Part of the reason I take Sienna into the kitchen with me is because I love to cook and I want to instill that same passion in her. Another reason I get her involved is that I know that if she helps me make the food, then there’s more of a chance that she’ll eat it. She’s at a finicky age and anything I can do to encourage her to eat nutritious food is definitely worth the effort!
But even more importantly, I want to lay the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating habits. When I was researching my book Natural Baby Food, I learned that dietary patterns are set early in life. Childhood obesity is an epidemic in this country with 10% of children 2-5 years old suffering from obesity. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of people aged 12-19 who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% from 1980 to 2012. This puts them at a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which are problems generally associated with adults.
As a physician and a parent, these numbers frighten me. That’s why I’m so excited to be teaming up with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science (UF/IFAS), an institution that is a leader in the effort to curb the childhood obesity issue. Educators at UF/IFAS Extension are an excellent resource for tips on how to help children eat healthy- and have fun doing it!Help prevent Childhood Obesity with these Nutritious Snacks for Kids via @foodiephysician! Sponsored by @UF_IFASClick To Tweet
So what are some ways you can teach your children healthy habits? For starters, it’s about encouraging them to eat the right foods and be physically active. As Anne Mathews, an assistant professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, states: “Preventing obesity and its health consequences is achieved through long-term adoption of health behaviors such as being physically active and eating a healthful diet rich in fruits and vegetables.”
We know that we should be offering our kids lots of fruits and vegetables but often it’s a challenge to get them to choose the healthy option over the not-so-healthy option. For example, a lot of kids would rather drink a box of juice than eat a whole apple. Kids love fruit juice and tend to overdrink it, reducing their appetite for other, more nutritious foods. Juice lacks the fiber and other nutrients found in whole fruits and vegetables and can be high in sugar. Drinking too much juice can contribute to poor nutrition and obesity as well as tooth decay. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting fruit juice to 4–6 ounces (1/2 –3⁄4 cup) per day for children ages 1–6 years old. For children 7 to 18 years old, juice should be limited to 8 to 12 ounces per day. When you do give your child juice, make sure it is 100 percent, unsweetened juice.
Instead of juice, focus on offering plenty of fresh, whole fruits and vegetables to your child as a nutritious snack. Put a twist on things to make it interesting for them. As parents, we have to get creative sometimes! Here are some fun ways to get your kids to ditch the juice and enjoy whole fruits instead:
- Rainbow Fruit Kabobs:
Kids love food on sticks! Arrange an assortment of brightly colored fruit on skewers. For young children, use popsicle sticks or cocktail straws rather than pointy skewers. Cut the fruit into different shapes to make it more fun- you can use a melon baller or tablespoon measure to make uniform balls. Serve the kabobs plain or make an easy dipping sauce with Greek yogurt. After all, kids love to dip food in sauces too. Have your children help you assemble the kabobs- that way they’ll have fun and will be more likely to eat them! Sienna helped me make these. That’s why I ended up with only 7 for the photo instead of 8!
Kids love drinks but instead of offering juice, try making a smoothie instead. They’re a whole lot healthier since you’re pureeing the whole fruit. Plus you can add nutritious ingredients like Greek yogurt, which is packed with protein and calcium. Ground flaxseed adds fiber and a host of essential vitamins and minerals. Bananas or dates are great to add natural sweetness to your smoothies. Pour the smoothies into small glasses to make them more kid-friendly and serve them with bright, colorful straws.
- Put it on Toast:
Toast is always an easy snack to put together. Make it fun for your kids by decorating the toast with silly faces using fresh fruit. Be sure to use whole wheat or multigrain bread for a boost of nutritious whole grains. Spread on some of your favorite nut butter (like peanut butter or almond butter), which provides a boost of protein. Then decorate away with fresh fruit like banana slices and berries. Who wouldn’t want to eat this?! And it’s healthier than the typical peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
To sum it up, nutritious snacks are an excellent way to help our children get the nutrients they need to grow and play. By exposing your kids to a wide variety of fresh, wholesome, nutritious foods from an early age, you’re teaching them to appreciate and love the real flavors of food rather than the processed sweets that line the supermarket shelves. You’ll also be helping to lay the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating habits.
For more information and tools on how to help your kids lead a healthier lifestyle, visit the UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition website. They offer a wealth of information including tips, recipes, and other resources to help Floridians take control of their health and their lives.
- 8 strawberries
- 1 clementine, peeled and segmented
- 8 pieces pineapple
- 1 kiwi, peeled, and cut into 8 pieces (or 8 green grapes)
- 8 blueberries
- 8 purple grapes
- ½ cup vanilla Greek yogurt
- 1 teaspoon lime juice
- Lime zest for garnish (optional)
- Thread the fruit onto skewers (use popsicle sticks or cocktail stirrers for young children). To make the dip, mix the yogurt and lime juice together. Garnish with lime zest. Serve kabobs with the yogurt lime dip.
For more than 100 years, the UF/IFAS Extension Service has helped improve the lives of Florida’s citizens through research, education, and the application of practical knowledge to solving everyday problems. Since 1914, when Extension was established, our faculty and staff have helped people save water and money, improve agricultural practices, promote healthy lifestyles, protect the environment, cultivate civic engagement, foster economic development, and prepare strong and capable youth for a vibrant and productive adulthood.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of UF/IFAS. The opinions and text are all mine.