Emphasize plant-based foods. Including plenty of vegetables and fruits in your meals and snacks is an important part of a healthy eating pattern. Vegetables and fruits contain many nutrients that a child’s body needs and can replace unhealthy food choices. Canned or frozen vegetables and fruit can be less costly than fresh and can be just as healthy when you choose those that have the least amount of sugar or sodium added to them. Aim to make half your plate vegetables and fruit at one or more meals each day.
Eating healthy is about more than what you eat. It’s about taking time to enjoy your food without the distraction of screens and paying attention to feelings of hunger and fullness. Eat slowly and savour each bite so that your body has time to tell you when you are full and signals you to stop eating. Turn off screens and other distractions while eating will help each member of your family focus on eating and realizing when they are full.
People who cook and eat most meals at home generally eat better and spend less money on food. Engage the family. Emphasize plant-based foods. Involving the entire household in planning and preparing meals also has many benefits. It shares the workload, helps to develop planning, shopping and food preparation skills in other family members, and builds a sense of belonging within the family.
Studies show that the more meals a family eats together, the more likely the children are to eat fruit, vegetables, whole grains and calcium-rich food and beverages. Children and youth who eat at home are also more likely to feel connected to their family. They do better in school and are half as likely to run into problems with substance abuse as teenagers. Keep in mind that the benefits of eating together are greatest if you don’t eat in front of the TV or any other screens. Aim to eat at least four meals together each week. Breakfast counts.
The majority of processed foods are high in natural or added sugar, saturated fat and/or sodium and are often made of refined grains or cereals. Highly processed foods include sugary drinks, chocolate and candies, ice cream and frozen desserts as well as bakery products like muffins, buns and cakes. Fast foods like French fries and burgers, frozen entrées like pasta dishes and pizzas, processed meats like sausages and deli meats and most crackers and granola bars are usually made primarily of highly processed ingredients. These foods should be kept to a minimum. Make it a habit to eat a variety of healthy foods most of the time – plenty of vegetables and fruit, whole grains and protein foods.
Our children are bombarded with ads for foods and beverages all day, every day. Research shows that as much as 90% of food and beverages marketed to children are for processed foods, high in sugar, salt and/or saturated fat. This marketing is having a devastating effect on children’s health and causing conflict in families.
There is strong agreement amongst leading Canadian pediatric and allied health organizations that the impact of food and beverage marketing is real, significant and harmful to children’s development. Limit your children’s exposure to food marketing and learn about the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition.