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The “Eat Right” Challenge: Celebrate National Nutrition Month®

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By: Anne Kolker MS, Registered Dietitian
 
Getting your family on the right track to eating healthy is always a hot topic during March, National Nutrition Month. This is the time of year where nutrition becomes a focus as schools are promoting healthy eating and the media is featuring healthy lifestyles topics. Everyone around the country is getting inspired to eat more fruits and vegetables. Here are some easy, helpful tips to get your family eating healthier meals.
 
Stop and Plan for the Nutrition Challenge
March is National Nutrition Month® and the American Dietetic Association reminds us to “Take the Nutrition Challenge and Eat Right”. Eating right means your family is getting enough nutrients from each of the five food groups. But with our busy schedules and lack of time, this can be challenging. The best way to ensure your family is ready for the Nutrition Challenge is by taking a little time to stop and plan for it. Thus “Eat Right” really means to “Stop and Plan.”
 
Fun resources for Kids to help celebrate National Nutrition Month

  • For vegetables and fruits, your family needs at least 5 to 9 servings every day (e.g. one-half cup of strawberries is one serving)
  • For the grains group, your family needs to eat foods high in whole grains
  • For the meat and beans group, your family needs to consume foods low in saturated fat
  • For the milk group, your family needs non-fat or low-fat diary foods to get their daily need for calcium (e.g. 1% milk). Children under two need a bit more fat in their diet and can drink 2% milk.

Healthy Eating Starts in the Kitchen
It may also mean it is time to clean out the kitchen, that means cabinets, drawers and the refrigerator. Have the kids help you with this one. This can be a fun scavenger hunt game that the kids will enjoy. Send them to look and retrieve all packaged goods (also called 'processed foods'). The kids can create a chart and get a star for each packaged food and ready-to-go snacks they find in your food closet. Another idea is have them guess a number of packaged foods and snacks they will find and write it down. After they have all been found, have the kids count them and see who came the closest to the exact number! Breakfast or energy bars (e.g. chewy granola bars), potato chips, veggie booties, crackers (e.g. cheezy crackers), soda, and energy drinks may be taking up more room than you think. These snacks and drinks are empty calories – meaning they only provide calories from simple carbohydrates and no nutrition. These are snack foods you want to teach your family are 'once in a while' treats.
 
Teaching your child that some snacks, especially snacks found in packages, should be eating only once in a while because they tend to be high in sugar and fat. We don't want these foods replacing the important food groups that your child needs to grow, develop strong bones and a healthy body that can fight off diseases.
 
Thus, this month take on the “Eat Right” challenge. If you do find your kitchen cabinets well stocked with bulk items of packaged foods, take them to your local food shelter or store them in an airtight container in the garage (out of sight, out of mind).
 
Planning your Family’s Healthy Foods
 
Now is a good time to make plans to eat healthier. You can sit down with your son or daughter and talk with them about the fun and importance of eating healthy. You can have them share what kinds of foods they ate during the week that were fruits and vegetables. It is important that the children are involved and part of the plan for eating healthy as a family. You will be surprised at what ideas and thoughts they have about how the family can work together to eat foods that are good for your body.
 
Once you’ve agreed on taking the eating right challenge, you can create your family's meal plan with many of their favorite foods. For example, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich could be for lunch and some stir fried chicken and baked fish will be served for dinner this Monday and Tuesday. Have the kids help select healthy side dishes and snacks, such as salads, veggies with pasta or whole wheat flour and low fat cheese.
 
This is a great time to start adding fruits and veggies back into your family’s main diet. Keep fruits washed and cut up, kids are more apt to grab and eat them if they are already prepared. Kids love to dip! Veggies are a great food to dip in a low fat dressing. Spread a little peanut butter on some celery with a few raisins on top and introduce 'Ants on a log' snack. Don't forget those wonderfully delicious smoothies! Encourage your child to color their plate with fruits and veggies.
 
At first, some kids may have some time adjusting their tastebuds if they have been used to a lot of packaged foods. They may ignore the sliced bananas or grapes on their plates. But don’t fret. It may take several days for their taste buds to adjust but they will. Don’t forget to serve yourself some healthy foods filled with more fruits and vegetables. This will go a long way, remember children watch what food choices you make and by eating healthy foods you can help your child develop healthier habits!
 
Fun Healthy Foods Facts
Meal time is another time to remind kids that foods are very interesting and fun. Here are some food facts you can share with your children.
 
Take a look at some of the interesting healthy food facts below:

  • 1 cup of strawberries contains only 50 calories while providing 100 mg of vitamin C and 2 grams of fiber.
  • California produces over 80% of the strawberries grown in the United States.
  • Parsnips, a fall vegetable, are related to carrots. Baking them brings out their sweet, nutty flavor. They can be enjoyed raw too; try grating them onto a salad or on top of a soup.
  • Native Americans used berries as a fabric dye. Berries and their leaves and roots were also used for medicinal purposes.
  • A small orange is about 80 calories and contains vitamin C and carotenoids.
  • Carotenoids are plant pigments responsible for the yellow, orange, and red color in fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids serve as antioxidants.
  • When people think of vitamin C, they think of colds. Vitamin C does play a role in the immune system but it has many other roles including helping to form collagen and maintaining healthy teeth, gums, and blood vessels.
  • Chinese royalty enjoyed melon seeds as early as 200 BC. The seeds were believed to be essential for good intestinal health.
  • Marco Polo brought melon seeds to Europe after enjoying strips of sweet dried melon in Afghanistan. Dried and roasted seeds are still consumed as snacks in South America and the Middle East.
  • Melons are in the same gourd family as squashes and cucumbers.
  • There are two groups of melons available: watermelons and muskmelons. The most familiar muskmelons include cantaloupe and honeydew.

Helping your family move to healthier eating habits does not have to be a difficult process. In fact, it is very important to keep it a fun and positive experience so that your child will remember these activities with fond memories and form positive associations when think of the word 'nutrition'. Habits take time to form and they take some time to change. So be patient and don't try to change too many eating habits all at once. One or two healthy eating habits goals is ideal. Happy Healthy Nutrition Month!
 
This family wellness article is provided by Nourish Interactive, visit www.nourishinteractive.com for nutrition articles, family wellness tips, free children's healthy games, and tools.  Available in English and Spanish.

 

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