There are many conversations you’ll have with your children as they age. While some are easier than others, talking with your kids about health and nutrition should fall on the easier end of the spectrum. Whether your child is below weight, above weight or just right, talking about the importance of good nutrition can go a long way in ensuring your child’s diet provides energy, strong bones, endurance and an overall sense of well-being – providing them with the knowledge to lead a healthy and active lifestyle.
(See also How Nutrition Changes as Kids Age)
Know Their Place on the Chart
A good starting point for such discussions is talking about nutritional needs with your children based on where they fall on the growth chart. Most of us can make nutritional changes to our diet, so it is best to discuss nutrition and a child’s growth chart in terms of health. If your child is underweight (weight-for-length or BMI below the 5th percentile), it may benefit them to gain weight to help build stamina. For overweight children (weight-for-length or BMI above the 85th percentile), they may not necessarily need to lose weight, but rather maintain it until their height catches up. These children could also benefit from more nutritious food choices. For normal weight range children it’s important to focus on good nutrition to help them build muscle, strong bones and keep their minds engaged to provide brain power throughout the day.
A printable version of a clinical growth chart from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can be found here.
Having “the Talk”
The focus of nutrition talks should include consuming enough fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy products and good sources of protein. Another focus should be on energy balance: food is our fuel (energy in) so we can complete the tasks of the day and engage in activities throughout the day (energy out). Without good nutrition in, it will be difficult to complete the tasks of the day.
Finally, to help your children establish and maintain good nutrition, model good nutrition yourself. Children follow in the footsteps of their parents and will eat similar foods they see you consuming. Have them help you in the kitchen to get them more involved in providing nutritious meals. Regardless of your child’s age, they can help with mixing, pouring or measuring ingredients. Children can also go with you to the grocery store so everyone can educate themselves on better food choices based on label reading and finding foods that are the colors of the rainbow.
What tips do you have for discussing the importance of nutrition with your child? Share in the comments below!
This article was written by Ellen Sviland, MS, RD, CNSD, LD, a pediatric dietitian from Washington, DC. She balances her daily hospital work life with cooking (her favorite is baking desserts) and with a part-time job counseling patients.
Be sure to check out additional Together Counts resources on promoting Energy Balance in your home: