Kids & Nutrition: Helping Them Make Healthier Choices (Video)

Kids are back in class. For parents, this means getting packed lunches ready every morning or relying on school cafeterias to provide their children with proper nutrition.

But how much do parents know about school offerings? Are there sufficient healthy options being provided, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains? And are fried foods and other unhealthy items being avoided?

In May, there was some concerns raised by dietitians when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suspended the strictest sodium-reduction targets and lowered the whole-grain requirements for school cafeterias nationwide. However, key rules under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act enacted under the Obama Administration were left intact, such as offering fruits and vegetables as two separate meal components, and preparing meals using food products or ingredients that contain zero grams of trans fat per serving.

School-meal rules aside, healthy eating habits begin at home, where parents can expose their kids to fruits and vegetables, says Natalie Castro, chief wellness dietitian for corporate wellness at Baptist Health South Florida.

“Adults seem to think that kids only like kid-friendly foods — things like chicken fingers, french fries, cookies, candy. Who doesn’t like those things?” says Ms. Castro. “But we do not grow up liking these foods. It’s a behavior we learned.”

(Video: The Baptist Health News team hears from Natalie Castro, chief wellness dietitian for Corporate Wellness at Baptist Health South Florida, about helping children make healthier nutritional choices. Video by Dylan Kyle.)

It’s important to teach children about healthier eating by providing them nutritional foods at home.

“Often, what happens is that kids are no longer exposed to these healthier foods,” says Ms. Castro. “So when do they have that opportunity to try them? It’s important to continue to have these foods present. The best thing is to have family time together and enjoy fruits and vegetables together.”

Additionally, eating out at restaurants may require avoiding typical kids’ menus riddled with fried foods and few nutrient-rich offerings, Ms. Castro says.

“Instead of just relying solely on kids’ menus at restaurants, you can order from the regular menu, providing kids with items such as grilled chicken, broccoli, some mashed potatoes — instead of the regular chicken fingers and the french fries,” says Ms. Castro.

Parents should be inquisitive when it comes to what’s being served at their kids’ school cafeterias. “If you’re interested in knowing what foods your child is being exposed to at school, you can ask school officials if they are being provided fruits and vegetables or other healthier options,” she says.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools provides a website with school menus. Of course, there’s always the option of taking more control of your kids’s daily school lunch by packing a home-prepared meal for them every morning.

“Kids can adapt to eating more fruits and vegetables and other healthier options,” says Ms. Castro. “They just need to be provided with these foods and encouraged to eat them.”

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