June 22, 2024

How to Help Kids Eat Healthier

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In honor of kid's eat right month, we're providing a dietitian's take on helping your kid eat healthier


By: Jordan McDonald, MS, RD, Clinical Nutrition Manager at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters

Jordan McDonald

Four years ago, I took a leap of faith with my career, which turned out to be the best decision I ever made! There was an opportunity to work at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters (CHKD) in a new setting, so I went for it. There, I discovered my passion for working with children.

My job is so gratifying. I am happy to see my hard work pay off with positive results regarding my patient’s nutrition status, such as tolerance of tube feedings, meeting growth goals, decreasing frequency of seizures with diet, or improved signs of malnutrition. Not only do I love the interactions I have with the children, but I also enjoy spending time and working with their families and caregivers.

At CHKD, we do our best to combine healthy food with comfort food. Just like adults, when children are sick and in the hospital, they want food that brings them encouragement and joy. I’m responsible for coding for the menus, so I keep an eye on what our children enjoy the most. I want to provide nutritious food and diverse, fun flavors, but must be mindful of what’s working. It’s a fun challenge to keep the balance there.

Luckily, at our café, we’re never short on options for our patients, their families, and our caregivers. There’s always a grill station and pizza station, and then we have a two-week rotating menu consisting of things like Italian, chicken wings, sushi, Jamaican food, etc. Our goal is to introduce people to new flavors, ingredients, and styles of food, all while understanding that food is comfort, and sometimes it’s okay to keep it simple.

This month is Kids Eat Right Month, and to celebrate I’d like to share my five simple tips for helping the children in your life eat healthier. Hope you enjoy!

Five tips for helping your kids eat right:

  1. Exposure – If you force children to eat their veggies, they may rebel because they think, “oh, that doesn’t taste good.” Try to not make a big scene about vegetables and other healthy foods; put it on their plate and see if they try it. Don’t make it a big deal either way.
  2. Preparing foods differently – There are so many ways to cook foods. There’s steaming, baking, sautéing, etc. If your child does not like something sauteed, try baking it and putting some parmesan on it. Every way you cook something has a different texture, smell, etc.
  3. Educate them on the food groups – Talk to your child about MyPlate during meals. Ask them, which food is your fruit? Which food is your protein? Is there anything missing from our plate? It’s a gratifying feeling for them to be able to connect the dots.
  4. Teach them good habits – If your child gets used to drinking a soda every day or eating dessert every night after dinner, they will continue to do this throughout their life. Try avoiding habits that include empty calories, such as sugary sweetened beverages. If they are starting to form this habit, there are so many low or no-calorie options.
  5. Don’t make a separate meal for your child – There’s no reason for a kid’s meal. Try to avoid making a different meal for your child. Serve them the same food that you are eating.

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