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Healthy eating in childhood and adolescence is important for proper growth and development.  The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025 recommend that people aged 2 years and older follow a healthy eating pattern to meet nutrient needs, help achieve a healthy body weight and reduce the risk of chronic disease. Choose nutrient-dense foods and drinks, stay within calorie limits, and try to limit added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium when planning snacks and meals. A healthy eating pattern includes the following:

 

  • A variety of fruits
  • A variety of vegetables
  • Grains (at least half of which are whole grains)
  • A variety of lean protein foods
  • Fat-free and low-fat dairy products and fortified soy alternatives
  • Oils
 

Unfortunately, sometimes it’s tough to get kids to follow these recommendations, especially if you have a picky eater. Small changes to your grocery list can make a big difference. Try to stock up on a wide variety of healthy foods which will give kids the opportunity to make their own food choices from an assortment of nutritious options. Keep fresh fruits and vegetables on hand, clean and ready to eat.  Grab and go snacks like low-fat cheese sticks, whole grain crackers, nut butters and low-fat yogurt make it easy for kids to snack smarter. 

 

When possible, try some of the healthy food substitution suggestions listed below to help move toward healthier eating patterns:

 

Kids’ Favorites

Healthier Options

White sugar

Honey or maple syrup

Soda

Fruit infused water, milk, or diluted 100% juice

Potato chips

Air popped popcorn

French fries

Baked sweet potato fries

Ice cream

Frozen yogurt or bananas

Fruit yogurt

Plain yogurt with fresh fruit

Ranch dip

Hummus

Fruit snacks

Fresh fruit

Popsicle

Frozen grapes

Butter toast

Avocado toast

Sugary cereal

Oats with berries

 

You don’t need to completely eliminate less-healthy foods.  Allow chips, cookies, soda, desserts, etc. every once in a while as a special “treat” so children do not feel completely deprived.   However, aim to limit sugary drinks or skip them all together.  Water, milk and 100% fruit juices (diluted with water to a 50:50 ratio) are better options. 

 

Remember that a nutrient-rich, well balanced diet is one of the key components of a healthy lifestyle at every stage of life.  Establishing healthy eating habits that are followed by ALL members of the family when kids are young will help them stick to these practices as adults.

 

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health and Academic Achievement. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/health_and_academics/pdf/health-academic-achievement.pdf. Publication date: May 2014. Accessed June 21, 2021.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smart Snacks. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/npao/smartsnacks.htm. Reviewed May 29, 2019.  Accessed June 21, 2021.
  3. Live Science. 10 Ways to Promote Kids' Healthy Eating Habits. https://www.livescience.com/35876-kids-healthy-eating-tips.html. Written May 30, 2013.  Accessed June 21, 2021.
  4. The Nemours Foundation. Healthy Eating. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/habits.html. Reviewed June 2018.  Accessed June 21, 2021.
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf. Accessed June 21, 2021.
  6. WebMD.  Healthy Eating Habits for Your Child. https://www.webmd.com/children/kids-healthy-eating-habits.  Reviewed December 6, 2020.  Accessed June 21, 2021.

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