Teaching your child healthy eating habits at a young age will only make it easier to decide what to eat as they become pre-teens and teenagers, going to drive-through fast food restaurants with friends and having sleepovers where junk food is plentiful. We can’t always be around to teach them the right foods to eat, but we can certainly help guide them when they are younger, hopefully creating a foundation to help them make healthy decisions as they become more independent.
The goal to healthy gut health, for children as well as adults, is learning how to eat a balanced diet. Ideally, enjoying three meals a day that are made up of at least three of the five food groups, along with a couple healthy snacks a day with the other two included, offers all of us the best nutrition. Eating in this well-balanced way is not only a healthy alternative but one that keeps us energized and full.
This may seem challenging, but the reality is what you buy to keep in your kitchen is what your child will eat. As parents, we also know that our actions often speak louder than words. When we are active and healthy, that’s what our children see. If they see us binge on junk food while watching TV every night, it’s an activity they will learn to imitate. Children that see healthy eating habits will likely follow suit.
The doctors at the Association of Childcare Physicians can recommend a healthy menu plan for your child. Some of the most favorable foods and drinking habits for healthy gut health include:
Regular water consumption. Making sure your children are hydrated, not only in the heat of summer but all year long, is an important step in having good gut health. Drinking water not only keeps us hydrated, but also helps foods move along in our digestive system well. Another benefit of drinking water is that it can protect us from becoming constipated. How much water should your child drink? It’s recommended that they drink an 8-ounce cup of water equivalent to their age (5 years = 5 cups). Once your child reaches 8 years old, the standard 8 glasses of water per day can be followed.
Yogurt. Lucky for us parents, most kids love yogurt! Yogurt contains prebiotics and probiotics which encourage healthy gut health. Another benefit is that yogurt can be high in protein and calcium, which is good for your bones and your teeth. Fruit and granola, raisins and nuts (if no allergy is present) can also be added to yogurt for a healthy, kid-friendly treat.
Say cheese! Cheese comes in many, many forms now! String cheese, block and even mini Babybel offers bite-sized cheese in different tastes and sizes. This is another way for your children to get the benefits of calcium-rich food! Another benefit? Children that are lactose intolerant often can still enjoy cheese, without any side effects.
Veggies and fruits. Saving the best for last, incorporating these high-fiber foods into your meal planning is your key to healthy eating, today and in the future! There are so many creative ways to encourage vegetables into a child’s diet, and if you need to add a ranch dip on the side, that’s ok. Fruits like apples and berries do a stellar job adding to healthy digestion, containing antioxidants that also taste great. If you can leave the skin on the fruits or vegetables, that’s ideal. And, as mentioned above, adding ranch, peanut butter, or something else to “dip” is a creative way to get your child to try something new!
Ideally, try and limit from your child’s diet food with dyes, sodium, heavy-sauces and fried food. Also, limiting fruit drinks (or omitting them completely from your child’s diet) is highly recommended. Soda, apple juice and many high-sugar sports drinks start kids on not-so-healthy drinking habits. Teaching them to instead enjoy a cold glass of water when thirsty is truly the best option! To mix things up, infuse some water with some of their favorite fruit or add a cucumber. It will be like a “spa day” at home!