7 Ways Parents Can Improve Their Child’s Diet

by | Updated: December 4th, 2016 | Read time: 4 minutes

As children head back to school, parents can rest assured their kids will be eating more healthful meals than in years past. Thanks to the Healthy, Hungry-Free Act of 2010, schools are now offering fruits and vegetables and preparing meals that contain less sugar and sodium, among other things. However, nutritious school food is only half the battle…

Parents also need to make sure children are eating well at home by getting the kids involved in shopping, cooking and making better food choices. “It is important to change the environment of the child,” says Annette Besnilian, dietetic internship director in the California State University, Northridge Department of Family and Consumer Sciences and an expert in nutrition and diet. “Parents also need to act as role models,” she adds.

How to Make a Healthy Diet Plan for Your Child
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Here are seven recommendations from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that parents can use to improve their child’s diet.

  1. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables

Adding vegetables to main meals and fruits to desserts can boost the nutritional content of a child’s overall food intake.

“All fruits and vegetables are important,” Besnilian says. “The key is to offer variety, different colors.”

Why different colors? The greater variety of colors you add to your child’s plate, the more likely it is that he or she is getting a range of important vitamins, minerals and fiber.

  1. Make half the grains you eat whole grains

The two major types of grains are refined grains and whole wheat grains. Refined grains are milled, which strips out the bran and germ. By contrast, whole grains contain the bran and germ, making them better sources of fiber and nutrients such as magnesium, potassium and selenium.

When buying products such as bread, pasta and flour for your family, look for the phrase “100% whole grain.” According to HHS, other ingredients that indicate a food is more healthful include:

  1. Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk

HHS notes that fat-free and low-fat milk have fewer calories and less saturated fat than whole milk, but do not skimp on any of the calcium or essential nutrients. However, unlike the other HHS recommendations on this list, the push to fat-free and low-fat milk has generated some controversy.

A 2013 study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood found that children who drink milk that’s lower in fat content actually weigh more on average than children who consume whole milk. Other studies have reported similar findings.

Besnilian still recommends fat-free and low-fat milk as being the right choice for your child. She notes that “multiple primary peer-reviewed research and studies” support this recommendation.

  1. Choose a variety of lean protein

Protein helps the body repair cells and build new ones. However, some sources of protein are healthier than others. They include:

  • Dry beans
  • Eggs
  • Lean meats (chicken, turkey and beef that is 90% lean or higher)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Peas
  • Seafood
  1. Compare sodium in foods

Try to keep your children from developing the habit of eating foods high in sodium. Excess levels of sodium are tough on the heart and contribute to high blood pressure.

When shopping for soup, bread, frozen meals and canned goods, try to choose items with the following words on the label:

  1. Drink water in place of sugary drinks

Excess sugar is also bad for your health, and kids will find the sweet stuff everywhere — candy, ice cream, sodas and so much more! Whenever possible, try to sway your children into drinking water. That can be a tough sell to a kid, so try sweetening water with a slice of lemon, lime or watermelon. Even a splash of 100% fruit juice added to water won’t cause too much harm, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Note, though, that juice tends to have a lot of added sugar. So a full glass of juice may not be the answer.

  1. Cut back on solid fats

Solid fats are any fat that is solid at room temperature, such as beef fat, butter or shortening. They’re generally high in saturated fats and trans fats, which pose health risks.

“It is important to lower the intake of saturated fats,” Besnilian says. “Saturated fat — or in general, all fats — can contribute to obesity, heart disease, hyperlipidemia, diabetes.”

Unfortunately, foods that kids love are major sources of solid fats. They include:

  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Hot dogs
  • Ice cream
  • Pizza

Allowing kids to eat these foods regularly can put them on a pathway to chronic diseases that will plague their health as adults, Besnilian says.

Instilling these smarter food choices while kids are still young could prove to be one of the most profound impacts a parent makes.