March is National Nutrition Month and parents are asked to “Put Your Best Fork Forward.” Following are five pieces of advice for carrying that fork down the path to better childhood nutrition.

The path that leads to a lifetime of good nutrition is interrupted by many forks, or choices. When making these choices for your kids, do you know what you would like on the fork?

This is no trick question, just an opportunity to consider the importance of food decisions in our hectic daily lives. And now is the time to do it, since March is National Nutrition Month. Created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 1973 as a weeklong event, National Nutrition Month (NNM) has since blossomed into a 31-day celebration of better family nutrition and well-being.

For us, that includes lots of veggies. We see NNM as a mile marker on the road to healthier eating and fewer mealtime negotiations. And the fork? Let’s consider that to be our guide. As this year’s National Nutrition Month theme advises, “Put Your Best Fork Forward.”

Just remember, it begins with just one step. We know every journey has its ups and downs and unexpected turns. To smooth out the bumps, we offer five tips for starting a lifetime of good health for your kids:

  1. Don’t tell kids what they like (or dislike): Kids’ palates change fast, so treat every approach to a new food or vegetable as if it is the first. This means avoiding telling your children that they may dislike a certain food – they’ll believe you even if they do like it. Similarly, your child might not trust you when you suggest she or he will like something new. They may, however, be willing to try that same food with friends or peers.
  2. Set a good (munch, crunch) example: Your kids are not only watching you, they are following your lead. So set a good one. Eat lots of veggies, including ones you aren’t crazy about, and make it be known. Then invite your kids to join you. Tell them, “You know, I’m in the mood for some celery. How about you?” If they decline, surprise them by preparing the veggie in an unexpected way, such as an hors d’oeuvre with toothpicks. They may change their minds and ask to join you.
  3. Start early – and early: Good nutrition begins in the high chair, and often early in the day. Research shows it is best to introduce babies to solid foods, including veggies, first thing in the morning or after a nap, because they will be hungrier. Also, make the food the center of attention – avoid distractions such as the television and energetic siblings.
  4. Bite the veggies, and bite your tongue: When enjoying a meal or snack with your kids, resist the urge to comment about what and how much they are eating. As explained in Parents magazine, if you say things like, “Eat your vegetables,” your kid will more likely push them away. Similarly, it’s important to talk about your kid’s eating habits with friends and the teacher, but try not to do so in earshot of the child. What you say has influence.
  5. Keep what’s healthy, healthy: We get it; the appeal and ease of ranch dressing and other dips is powerful. There’s nothing wrong with veggie “aids,” but preservative-free, all-natural flavor enhancers (not hiders) will get better long-term results. Nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom are great on eggplant and squash. Lemon and orange zest can brighten asparagus, broccoli and cauliflower. If your kid prefers a dip or topper, choose something that is 100% natural and sugar free. Vegy Vida, for example, is preservative-free and right in the produce aisle, where you can load up on healthy veggies.

We know that maintaining optimum nutrition at meal time can be a challenge, but withstand the temptation to stick a fork in the whole situation. Tiny victories pave the path to good nutrition – one step, and forkful, at a time.

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