Kids Health Matters: Eating healthier and having fun doing it

WILMINGTON, Delaware (WPVI) -- Holiday cooking season is just ahead and that's a great time to teach children some basic principles in healthy eating.

Registered dietitian Katie Perry of Nemours duPont Hospital's Weight Management clinic shares her strategies for getting kids to eat better, and enjoy it.

Perry says the first step to healthier eating is to get kids involved in making meals. It makes introducing new foods easier.

"They're a little more invested in trying a food if they went through the process of creating it," says Perry.

Start out by selecting recipes together, and explaining them. Then it's time to shop.

"Take the kids to the supermarket and teach them healthy habits, such as walking around the perimeter of the grocery store," she says.

That way you'll start with fresh produce. Have them look for bright colors and interesting shapes, then talk about ways to prepare them.

While you're at the market, start looking at food labels - explain what's on them, and why it's important.

In the kitchen, give children tasks appropriate to their age.

For pre-schoolers, that can involve washing fruit, or if the kids are capable, helping measure ingredients.

"Kind of having fun and getting a little messy, even doing things with their hands," she continues.

Those in elementary school can handle measuring, mixing, and some cutting - with kid-friendly knives.

Cooking is also a good opportunity to practice numbers, and math and time-keeping skills.

Perry does them all in cooking classes at Nemours duPont Hospital.

"It's a 6-week session, and we do 6 different recipes throughout the course. And we do things from smoothies to stir fry, to chocolate quinoa cupcakes," she adds.

Quinoa is new to most kids, so they're open to using it in ways adults wouldn't and they learn about about it while cooking.

"We also talk about the health benefits of quinoa, and then also different varieties of using quinoa, whether it's mixing it in with a veggie burger or as a side dish," she says.

Her final tip for healthier eating may be the most important - eat together as a family, at least once a day if possible.

She points to study after study which note families eat more nutritiously, and have better weight control when they eat together.

"Parents are the best role models for kids," she notes, adding, "Parents definitely do not have to be perfect."

"But you know, if you;re asking your child to try broccoli, and broccoli is not on your plate, it's a little bit harder to encourage them to try it," she says.

When you eat together, turn off the music, TV, and other distractions, so you are mindful - aware - of what and how much you eat.

It's much easier to know when you're full when you can sense your body's own cues.

If you'd like to try some kid-friendly recipes from KidsHealth.org, the Nemours Health info site - CLICK HERE.
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