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What Will it Take to Get America’s Kids to Eat Right?

I wrote this a long time ago, but updated it in May 2019. This message is just as powerful, and just as needed!

As a parent-focused family blog, you can see that ‘what parents can do’ is on the top of my list, especially when it comes to getting kids to eat right.  But, it doesn’t end there.

Parents don’t operate in a vacuum–they have many partners when it comes to raising kids who are healthy, and these partnerships are highlighted here as well.

It will take a ground-swell of effort from all partners to make a lasting impact on getting kids to eat right.

Happy family eating together. What Will it Take for America's Kids to Eat Right?

How Parents Can Help Kids Eat Right

Get Nutrition Education

Parents get a lot of information about feeding their babies in the first year, but after that, nutrition information becomes a hodge-podge of confusing contradictions and changes.

This can lead to fear and confusion. I talk about the impact of this reality in my TEDx talk.

There is a lot to know.

Registered dietitians who are trained in the science of food and nutrition are your trusted resource– find one near you to answer your questions.

Feed your Kids Well

Plan, procure, and prepare good meals: feeding your child is an art and it’s your #1 job as a parent.

Yes, feeding is a commitment, a job, and can lack reward sometimes, but I am here to tell you, getting this part right will help your kid eat right.

Healthy kids, who enjoy food and who learn how to feed themselves well for life come with lasting rewards.

Enjoy Eating Food

Food is not ‘good’ nor ‘bad’–it just is–food. We all need to eat, and admittedly most of us need to pay attention to eating better–but we don’t have to be perfect, nor do our kids.

Enjoy! Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Be a Role Model and Set the Example

Behave the way you want your kids to–eat well and move. Parenthood is full of opportunities to show your kids a positive attitude about food, how to eat well and take care of your body through exercise.

Your little monkeys will “ape” you all day long–make sure they see the good stuff.

Feed Right If You Want Your Kid to Eat Right

We are bombarded with messages that focus on eating right. I’m unsure if this is an effective message for kids.

My advice to parents is this: Shift your efforts to “feeding right” and the “eating right” will follow.

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How Pediatricians Can Help Kids Eat Right

Educate Parents Early

Anticipatory guidance is the buzz word for prevention. As pediatricians are the first filter for families, it’s critical that they lead the conversation about nutrition, and provide referrals and resources promptly.

Intervene Early

Give parents the resources they need the first time they ask. Screen for variations in growth and refer to other health care professionals (like a registered dietitian) who can address problematic behaviors quickly, before they get out of control.

Give parents the tools (and confidence) to overcome nutrition challenges.

Focus More on the Health Benefits of Good Nutrition

Traditional medicine is reactive; build more health and nutrition education into your practice and it will help parents prioritize nutrition appropriately.

How Educators & Schools Can Help

Get Nutrition in Schools

It’s true: nutrition can be incorporated into everyday school subjects. Really.

And frankly, nutrition is more interesting to children when it is presented in this manner, rather than as a core subject.

Think about cups and teaspoons in math class, reviewing the latest nutrition research in writing class, and nutrition ethics in speech and debate courses.

And what about bringing back Home Economics?

While perhaps boring for the teen, school-age children are at a perfect developmental age for this!

Girl raising her hand. What Will it Take for America's Kids to Eat Right?

Serve Nutritious Food

Get the cafeteria food right. ‘Nuf said.

Make Physical Activity a Requirement

If you have read Spark by John Ratey, you understand the powerful impact exercise has on the brain, among other benefits.

Our country focuses on activity as a means to correct our weight problems, but the reality is, there are many other compelling reasons to bring exercise back into the school curriculum.

For one, regular exercise may foster improved academic performance.

How Food Manufacturers & Media Can Help

Stop Selling False Health

Is it me, or is the word “healthy” becoming an empty promise? Many people are lured to the cash register by the promise of this word on food packages.

Over-used and under-performing, “healthy” is a term to ingest with a grain of salt.

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Stop Targeting Children with Advertising

Leave the little ones alone.

Parents have a hard enough time getting nutrition right, and enticing kids at every media interaction with food ads isn’t helping.

Change to Positive Conversations

The ‘all or nothing’ approach to nutrition and “good vs. bad” food confuses parents and loads them with guilt for not getting it right.

Guilt = failure = giving up.

Parents who throw in the towel aren’t helping their kids eat right.

Cultivate messages that couple healthy behaviors with eating nutritious food, and we may get more kids eating right and moving more.

What do you think it will take to get America’s kids to eat right?

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  1. ..Whatever claims a foods manufacturer writes on the front of the package you can judge whether a food is healthy for you by reading the ingredients and the nutrition information on the food label.

  2. I was nodding my head in agreement while reading this post. I especially appreciate that you included pediatricians and schools instead of just parents. Thanks for putting it together and it will be passed onto many.

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  4. Wow…so many good ideas shared in this post I don’t know where to begin! You are so right that getting our children to eat right takes a multi-faceted approach. I love that you point out the responsibility we have as parents, health professionals, educators and media. Let’s take a positive and proactive approach! As always, you hit the mark spot on 🙂

    1. Thanks–it is a confluence of influence which will require an army of effort-makers! Always starting with the home-front first…