Healthy eating is fundamental to good health - especially during National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.
"A well-balanced diet helps prevent so many diseases. In our Health for Life clinic, we work with families and children to change poor lifelong eating habits and help prevent the health issues that go along with that," said Trisha Hardy, a registered dietitian and director of child wellness at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
Helping families eat right includes encouraging everyone to make half their plate veggies and fruits, drink more water and limit sugary drinks.
Hardy says it's also important to be active for 60 minutes every day and limit screen time to one hour every day as ways to have fun and keep everyone moving.
Hardy is the mom of an almost 2-year-old and she shares her strategies for encouraging children to eat a variety of foods. "My daughter eats what we eat and we allow her to choose from what we're serving. Just recently she tried okra for the first time when it came into season. It wasn't her favorite, but I'll give it to her a few more times so she can get her palate used to eating it," she said.
Her strategy is paying off. Broccoli? Her daughter now eats it like ice cream. Squash? She loves it. "We find if we try it, she will try it. Role modeling is so important," said Hardy.
Hardy says when you're working towards healthier cooking, it's important to start small. The all or nothing approach generally doesn't work, she said. "Make these changes over time. The more you can make your children a part of the decision, the more likely they are to embrace and adopt them." "A lot of time people think they can't eat healthy because they don't have the time, it costs too much and it's too difficult. That's just not true," said Hardy. She offers a number of suggestions that can make eating healthy a way of life at your house.
• Be a good role model. This may be the most important tip of all. Children tend to eat what their parents eat. Eat well-balanced meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables and your kids are more likely to do the same.
• Serve an occasional meal with no meat. Black Bean Sliders are a good example. Beans are less expensive than ground beef so serving beans instead of meat once in a while will save money and add fiber to your meals.
• Have breakfast for dinner. Dishes like the Collard Green Bake or an omelet, filled with vegetables, are a dinner solution that's quick to prepare, full of nutrients and easy on the budget.
Stock your freezer wisely. A few favorites stored away make fixing dinner quicker than going through the drive-through. Frozen vegetables and frozen chicken make quick stir fries a breeze. When you make rice, cook extra and freeze it in meal-size portions. It thaws in minutes and that takes care of the most time-consuming part of a stir fry dinner. Frozen vegetables in particular are a good investment. They're just as nutritious as fresh, keep longer and are easy to pull out at a moment's notice.
Stock your pantry wisely. Check out the list at the Strong 4 Life website and stock your pantry shelves with the tools for quick, healthy dinners.
Think skillet meals. A quesadilla filled with rinsed, drained low-sodium black beans and a cup of sauteed vegetables goes together in just a minute. Add a little shredded part skim cheese, a side salad and some fruit and dinner is done. An omelet is another great skillet meal idea.
Plan for what you're drinking, too. Water and low fat milk are the best beverages to serve with meals. Limit juice consumption. Even 100 percent juice can contain the equivalent of as much sugar as a soda. Whole fruit is a much better choice than juice because it also provides fiber. Low fat milk provides calcium and protein and is essential for kids as they grow and develop.
Make your own "TV dinners": Every time you cook a meal, cook extra. Now you have leftovers for another dinner or for lunch another day. If you don't want to eat them the same week, freeze them in menu-size portions and pull them out for a quick meal. Spaghetti sauces, soups and stews in particular freeze well.
Involve everybody in meal planning and preparation. If your children help you buy the vegetables and fix them for dinner, they're more likely to try them. They get excited about eating things when they're part of the process.
Offer a variety of vegetables. If getting them to eat vegetables is a struggle, give them a choice. Ask "Would you like broccoli or would you like green beans for dinner?" Choosing between your selections empowers them and they're more likely to eat it because it was their decision.
Don't give up. It takes all of us, children and adults, multiple tries to really develop a taste for a food. Be persistent. Keep offering a vegetable or a new dish.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
Cinnamon Tortillas with Cream Cheese and Berries
The choice of berries is up to you. Blackberries or blueberries can go onto the tortilla whole. Strawberries should be sliced. Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's Trisha Hardy suggests serving the tortillas with a glass of skim milk.
•1 teaspoon granulated sugar
•1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
•1 (6-inch) fat-free whole wheat tortilla
•1 tablespoon reduced fat cream cheese, room temperature
•1/3 cup fresh berries
•In a small bowl, stir together sugar and cinnamon.
In microwave, warm tortilla 20 seconds. Carefully remove and spread tortilla with cream cheese. Sprinkle with sugar-cinnamon mixture and top with berries. Roll tortilla and serve.
Per serving: 164 calories (percent of calories from fat, 22), 5 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 4 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 5 milligrams cholesterol, 182 milligrams sodium.