How to get your kids to eat healthy

March 30, 2011 8:05:00 AM PDT
The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans places stronger emphasis on reducing calorie consumption and increasing physical activity.

That's good advice, especially for parents of the one in three children who are overweight or obese, says Registered Dietitian, Christine Palumbo, writer of the "Good Sense Eating" column for Chicago Parent magazine and a spokesperson for Midwest Dairy Council. "Children should enjoy their food, but serve them smaller portions," advises Palumbo. "Children 4 to 8 years, require 1,200 to 2,000 calories per day, and boys generally have higher calorie needs than girls." To help parents make sense of the new rules for healthy eating, Christine shares child-focused nutrition tips based on some key recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines.

Christine's suggestions:

1. Serve children 6-ounces of whole grains every day, such as whole grain bread, cereal , crackers, oatmeal, brown rice and low-fat popcorn. For example, Home-made Low Fat Granola, served with low-fat milk and fresh fruit is a nutrient-dense breakfast, and research supports a positive link between eating breakfast and cognitive and academic performance.

2. Offer a variety of colorful vegetables (2-1/2 cups daily) and whole or cut-up fruits (1-1/2 cups daily), and fill half their plate with them. A fun serving idea is a Flower Garden Vegetable Dip using yellow peppers and radishes for the flowers; snap peas, peapods or green pepper strips for the leaves; and a pretzel stick for the stem, inserted in a yogurt-based dip.

3. Switch to and increase children's intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as yogurt and cheese. The recommended daily amount has been increased to 2-1/2 cups for children 4 to 8 years ,and 3 cups for those ages 9 years and older. One dairy serving is equal to an 8-ounce glass of white or flavored milk, an 8-ounce cup of yogurt, 1-1/2 ounces of natural cheese or 2-ounces of processed cheese. String Cheese Bugs are a favorite, made by cutting string cheese in half, using peanut butter to attach two raisin "eyes," and inserting pretzel sticks as the "antennas" or "legs."

4. Serve 5-ounces of lean or low-fat meat, chicken, turkey, fish, dry beans, nuts and seeds, every day. For a healthier version of the traditional taco salad, try Touchdown Taco Salad which includes both lean meat and black beans.

5. Remove the salt shaker from the family table, and buy foods that are low to moderate in sodium.

6. Be a good role model! Eat your fruits and vegetables and drink your milk, and your children will follow.

7. Balance calories with exercise. In response to the growing obesity epidemic and declining physical fitness of America's youth, National Dairy Council and the NFL, in cooperation with the USDA, launched a unique in-school nutrition and physical activity program called Fuel Up to Play 60 that encourages children to eat healthy and get out and play for 60 minutes a day.

For these and other recipe ideas, and information on Fuel Up to Play 60, please visit

Dietary Guidelines Quiz:

How much do you know about the new dietary guidelines?

1. Nearly one in three American kids are overweight or obese. True or False?
True: More than one-third of children in the United States are overweight or obese, which is why the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans places stronger emphasis on reducing calorie consumption and increasing physical activity to at least 60 minutes every day.

2. Which of the following are "Gap Nutrients"?
a. Potassium b. Dietary Fiber
c. Calcium
d. Vitamin D
e. All of the above - correct answer
The Guidelines recommend choosing nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, milk and milk products, that provide more potassium, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamin D, identified as nutrients of concern.

3. School breakfast can help improve children's diets. True or False?
True. Children tend to eat breakfast less often as they get older, so school breakfast offers a great opportunity to improve children's diets. Breakfast consumption is also linked to a higher intake of several nutrients.

4. How many dairy products should kids ages 4 to 8 consume every day?
a. 3 servings
b. 2.5 servings - correct answer
c. 2 servings
For children ages 4-8, the recommendation was increased from 2 to 2.5 daily servings of low-fat or fat-free milk or milk products. Current evidence shows that intake of milk and milk products is linked to improved bone health, especially in children and adolescents.