“How do you know you don’t like it? You haven’t even tried it!”
If any of these sound familiar, you are probably like most parents, struggling at mealtimes to find something, anything your picky eater will enjoy — and that will give them some sort of nutritional benefit. And if you’re like most parents, you worry about whether you’re kids’ delicate palates are keeping them from being as healthy as possible.
The good news is that you can relax. In fact, there’s a good chance you’re needlessly worrying about your kid’s diet, thanks to a few pervasive myths about what, and when, kids should be eating. While childhood obesity and other health issues are always a concern, your kids are probably eating better than you think.
Myth #1: Kids Need a Variety of Foods Every Day This myth is both true and untrue. On the one hand, yes, everyone (regardless of their age) needs to eat a variety of foods, including produce, grain and proteins to stay healthy. However, that’s not always possible. Little Bill may decide that all he wants is carrots for a few days or Susie may suddenly develop an aversion to bananas, even though she’s always loved them. Kids, especially those under 5, have ever-changing taste buds and are still developing their preferences. Most kids will move in and out of food phases quickly. As long as their food choices balance out over the course of a month, they should be fine nutrition-wise. Just continue to offer a variety of healthy choices and encourage them to try new things.
Myth #2: Kids Need Three Meals A Day This myth actually affects people of all ages: We are conditioned to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. However, to eat as healthfully as possible, professionals with master’s degrees in nutrition and wellness recommend “grazing,” or eating several small meals throughout the day. This keeps blood sugar and appetite in check. Instead of arguing with your kids to clean their plates during a huge dinner, offer five to six smaller meals or snacks throughout the day.
Myth #3: All Sugar is Bad Sugar has gotten quite the bad rap these days and is blamed for everything from obesity to hyperactivity in children. As a result, many parents believe all sugar is bad and do everything they can to keep it away from their kids. The truth is, though, some sugars are actually good for the body. These are the complex carbohydrates, found in fruit, vegetables, legumes and dairy products that take a long time to break down and provide the body with energy. It’s simple sugars — those found in cake, cookies, candy and the like — that should be limited. Remember the mantra of “everything in moderation:” An occasional treat is fine and will not throw your child’s health out of balance.
Myth #4: Organic Is Always Better Many parents are justifiably concerned about the chemicals and other additives contained in food and how it affects children’s health. However, just because something is labeled “natural” or “organic,” doesn’t necessarily make it a better choice for your family. Even “natural” cookies contain simple sugars and other ingredients that aren’t exactly healthy. Educate yourself about the foods that you’re better off to choose organic (certain fruits and vegetables, for example) and learn to read labels to make the best choices.
Myth #5: Eating Any Junk Food Makes Kids Fat Now, no one is suggesting that a diet of nothing but chips, soda, fast food and packaged snack cakes is a good idea — that’s usually a surefire way to wind up obese and unhealthy. However, some have argued that having less healthy foods available to children makes them more prone to obesity, but that’s not necessarily true. Again, the key is moderation. If the majority of your child’s diet is healthy (as in more than 80 percent of the time they eat well) it’s not going to cause significant harm if they indulge in a small amount of junk food. Educate your kids about how to make healthy choices, and let them help come up with ideas for healthy snacks and meals that taste good. They’ll naturally develop a preference for healthy foods and limit the junk on their own.
With so much information regarding the best way to eat coming from so many sources, it may seem as if you can’t win. However, by following some simple rules and making your kids’ diets as balanced as possible, you can avoid most significant health problems — and keep your whole family healthy.
About the Author: Registered dietician Olivia Ross works with children and families to create healthy eating plans and make good food choices. She blogs about healthy food and family wellness ideas.