August is recognized by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Academy Foundation as Kids Eat Right Month®. This month focuses on the importance of healthy eating and active lifestyles for children and families.
Below are 10 tips to support busy families with eating healthy and staying active throughout the month.
Kids Eat Right Month® 2023 – 10 Tips for Eating Healthy and Staying Active
Tip #1: Keep Healthy Foods Available
Take time to stock your freezer, refrigerator, and pantry with healthy meal and snack options that your family can enjoy. Consider creating snack baskets in your fridge and pantry where your kids can grab healthy snacks when they get hungry during the day.
On the weekend take time to plan ahead for the week and meal prep snacks and meals. Have your family help you create a grocery list prior to going to the store. This will allow you to get all the food items needed for the week in one trip, saving you valuable time on busy weekdays.
Consider the following meal prep tasks that can be done in advance:
- Wash and chop fresh fruits and vegetables
- Prepare a large batch of quinoa, rice, or pasta
- Hard-boil eggs
- Prepackage individual bags of dry cereal, pretzels, snack crackers, trail mix, or nuts
- Make overnight oats to have ready for breakfast
Tip #2: Eat a Rainbow of Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
During Kids Eat Right Month® aim to include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in your family’s snacks and meals. Fruits and vegetables are packed full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals making them a nutritious addition to your family’s diet (1).
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
When purchasing fresh produce, buy fruits and vegetables that are in-season. In-season produce will have more flavor and be less expensive than produce that is out of season. The USDA has a Seasonal Produce Guide that can help you determine which fruits and vegetables are available each season.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are a great snack option, as they require limited preparation and can easily be tossed into your child’s backpack or gym bag on the way out the door.
Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
Frozen fruits and vegetables are also a nutritious option. When fruit is frozen, it is flash-frozen at the peak of ripeness. Thus, it retains a similar nutrient composition as fresh. For those fruits and vegetables that are out-of-season, purchasing frozen produce can help you save money at the store.
Consider keeping frozen berries on hand for preparing fruit smoothies or fruit and yogurt parfaits. Frozen vegetables are a great option to have available for a quick, nutritious side dish to enjoy with meals.
Tip #3: Limit Sugar-Sweetened Beverages
During Kids Eat Right Month® 2023 aim to limit your family’s intake of sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, fruit punch, sweet tea, and sugary coffee drinks. Sugar-sweetened beverages provide calories without other nutritional benefits such as vitamins and minerals.
The added sugar in these beverages can lead to dental concerns, such as tooth decay and cavities. In addition, the excess consumption of calories from these drinks can lead to weight gain and is associated with an increased risk of obesity and other chronic diseases (2).
Healthy Beverage Choices for Children and Adolescents
Encourage your family to include nutritious beverages with their meals and snacks to help with meeting their daily hydration needs.
Ideas for drinks that children and adolescent can enjoy include:
* Recipes from Kathryn Piper, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Fruit Juice for Children and Adolescents
The consumption of 100% fruit juice can be part of a healthy diet for children and adolescents when consumed in moderation. However, when fruit juice is consumed in excess it can contribute to weight gain, tooth decay, diarrhea, and malnutrition (3).
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following limits for 100% juice consumption (3):
- Toddlers 1-3 years of age: 4 ounces/day
- Children 4-6 years of age: 4-6 ounces/day
- Children 7-18 years of age: 8 ounces per day
Children and adolescents should be encouraged to eat whole fruit, which contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals, to meet their daily recommend intake of fruit (3).
Tip #4: Involve Kids in Grocery Shopping and Meal Preparation
This month make it a priority to include your kids in grocery shopping and meal preparation. At the grocery store, encourage your children to pickout new fruits and vegetables for your family to enjoy during the week. Kids like to be involved with making decisions and are more likely to try produce they helped select.
In the kitchen, involve your children with age-appropriate meal preparation tasks. Tasks children can help with include:
- Measuring dry ingredients to include in a recipe
- Mixing ingredients in a bowl
- Serving fruit and vegetables onto a plate
- Helping set the table
While preparing the meal, talk with your child about the food you are making and why it is good for the body. A fun task for children is to make them the official “Taste Testers” of the meal, allowing them to sample the food before it gets to the table.
Tip #5: Eat Meals Together as a Family throughout Kids Eat Right Month® 2023
Throughout Kids Eat Right Month® 2023 aim to eat meals together as a family. Regularly eating family meals is associated with better overall diet quality, increased fruit and vegetable consumption, improved mental well-being in adolescents, and better family connectedness (4, 5).
Make it a point to limit any outside distractions during the meal, such as watching television or playing on the phone. Also, avoid having your child bring toys to the table or do homework during the meal.
Use family meal time as an opportunity to visit and connect with your children. Take time to ask your kids about school, discuss activities from the day, and make plans for future activities.
Tip #6: Make Healthy Choices When Eating Out
With busy work and school schedules grabbing a quick meal on-the-go from a restaurant has become common place for many families. Here are tips to provide parents with ideas for making healthy choices when dining out.
Select Restaurants that Serve Healthy Options
When selecting a restaurant to eat at, choose a location that you know has nutritious options available. Review the restaurant website ahead of time to see what items are available and determine how they fit into the nutrition needs of your family.
Limit Fried Foods
Limit fried foods and instead opt for items that are grilled, baked, steamed, or roasted. Choose a grilled chicken sandwich or single-patty hamburger over fried chicken, fried fish, or chicken fried steak.
Instead of French fries, tater tots, or onion rings, choose a nutritious side item.
Add Healthy Options to Your Meal
When possible, choose whole grain items to enjoy with your meal. For example, request burgers and sandwiches be served on a whole wheat bun or bread. Select corn or whole wheat tortillas over flour tortillas, and request brown rice instead of white.
Request extra vegetable toppings on sandwiches, burgers, tacos, and burrito bowls. With the meal, order a healthy side, such as a fruit cup, apple slices, side salad, steamed veggies, or a fruit and yogurt parfait.
Limit Sugar-Sweetened Beverages
As discussed above, limit sugar-sweetened beverages with the meal. Instead of soda, lemonade, or sweet tea, choose water, unsweet tea, or low-fat milk to drink at the restaurant.
Watch Portion Sizes
Order child-sized portions (Kid’s Meals) for your children. If the restaurant does not have a child’s menu, consider ordering one healthy entrée to share with your child.
Avoid the urge to super-size your own meal. It is best to enjoy your meal in moderation and then have a healthy snack later in the day when you get hungry.
Healthy Restaurant Options
For ideas on healthy items to order at some popular restaurants, check out my recent blogs:
Tip #7: Just Move during Kids Eat Right Month® 2023
Engaging in regular physical activity is important for the health and well-being of your family. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, children and adolescents should engage in 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily (6).
Make being active fun for your children. Encourage your kids to try a variety of activities to find those they most enjoy. Involve your child in outdoor activities, such as gardening, riding bikes, swimming, and playing with other children at local parks.
Also look for ways you can be active together as a family. Consider taking a family walk together after dinner, going roller skating, hiking at a local park, or going on a family bike ride.
When involving your children in physical activity, don’t forget the importance of safety. Make sure your kids are appropriately supervised at all times. In addition, ensure your children are wearing the appropriate safety gear (i.e., bike helmet) for the activity they are participating in.
Tip #8: Be Mindful of Screen Time
It is important for parents also to be mindful of the amount of time their children and adolescents are spending in front of a screen. This includes time spent playing video games, watching TV, and using a computer, tablet, or smart phone.
When children and adolescents are engaged in screen time, they are often sitting down and physically inactive. Higher amounts of screen time are associated with an increased risk of a child becoming overweight or obese. In addition, excessive screen time can negatively impact sleep quantity and quality (7, 8).
Screen Time for Children 2 – 5 Years of Age
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting the digital media use of children 2-5 years of age to no more than 1 hour per day of high-quality programming (7). In addition, screens should not be allowed during meal times or in the hour prior to bed.
Screen Time for School-Aged Children and Adolescents
For school-aged children and adolescents, the American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes there are numerous ways youth interact with technology throughout the day. Thus, rather than only recommending a specific screen time limit, considerations should be made for how the technology is being utilized (9).
Families are encouraged to develop and utilize a Family Media Plan that addresses the type and amount of media used by the child/adolescent. The plan should include (8):
- Limits the types and amounts of media used by the child/adolescent
- Encourages children/adolescents to engage in the daily recommended amount of physical activity and get adequate sleep each night
- Avoids the use of screens in the hour prior to bed and while completing homework
- Designates screen-free locations (i.e., child’s bedroom) and times
The American Academy of Pediatrics has a Family Media Plan interactive resource available on their website. Families can utilize this resource to create a customized plan that aligns with your family’s priorities and needs.
Tip #9: Get Adequate Sleep during Kids Eat Right Month® 2023
Throughout Kids Eat Right Month® 2023 commit to making sleep a priority for your family. Getting adequate sleep is important to support the physical health and mental well-being of children and adolescents. Regularly getting adequate sleep is associated with improved attention, learning, memory, behavior, and emotional regulation in youth (10).
On the other hand, routinely getting insufficient sleep is associated with an increased risk for accidents, injuries, anxiety, depression, obesity, hypertension, and diabetes (10). Despite the importance of sleep, it is an area that is often neglected, particularly as youth enter their teenage years (11).
The amount of sleep a child or adolescent needs varies by age. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the following (10):
- Children 1-2 years old: 11-14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
- Children 3-5 years old: 10-13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
- Youth 6-12 years old: 9-12 hours of sleep per night
- Teenagers 13-18 years old: 8-10 hours of sleep per night
Tip #10: Serve as a Role Model
As a parent or caregiver, it is important to model the healthy behaviors you want your children and adolescents to engage in.
Consider the following ways you can serve as a role model during Kids Eat Right Month® 2023:
- Have a positive attitude when it comes to physical activity and healthy eating
- Eat the same healthy foods at meals and snacks you offer your children
- Make water your go-to choice for hydration
- Find ways to be active together as a family
- Take steps to limit your own screen time
- Turn off your cell phones during meals
- Get adequate sleep each night
As a reminder, creating healthy lifestyle habits can have a lasting impact on the health and well-being of your family. During Kids Eat Right Month® 2023 make a commitment to eating healthy, being active as a family, and most importantly enjoying the time spent together.
For additional resources and recipes to support healthy eating and active lifestyles for kids, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website.
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About the Author
Mandy is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine. Mandy has experience working with athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. She believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation. Learn more about the work Mandy does here.