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On Nutrition: As school begins, tips to help kids eat right

By Barbara Quinn, The Monterey County Herald (Tribune News Service)
September 2, 2015

My morning commute to work is suddenly filled with big yellow buses and cars darting through traffic to drop off kids at school. Yep, the school year is here once again. This is also Kids Eat Right Month, an ongoing initiative of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to teach families how to shop, cook and eat smart.

How do we get kids—in the midst of our busy lives—to eat right? Registered dietitian Tess Warwick, who works with the Kids Eat Right program at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in Monterey, California, offers these healthy behavior goals that parents can help kids practice:

1. Eat at least one fruit and one vegetable each day. More is better, of course; but it's an easy way to remind your child why those apples slices are in his lunch bag. It's also a teachable moment when you are at the grocery store and junior is begging for hot Cheetos.

2. Limit beverages that contain added sugar. Add sliced oranges, strawberries or even cucumbers to iced water and encourage your child to at least taste it. He might be pleasantly surprised.

3. Get one hour of physical activity each day. That holds for us, too, Mom and Dad. Kids who run and play with others in guided activities are more apt to think those activities are fun.

4. Look for foods that contain “dietary fiber” and eat them. Fiber resides in foods that began their lives in the ground—plant foods such as whole grains, nuts, beans, fruit and vegetables. One easy recipe, says Warwick, is a Batman Tortilla (so named for the black beans it contains). Kiddos top a corn tortilla (whole grain) with black beans, chopped tomatoes and onion (dietary fiber), a dollop of Greek yogurt (calcium and protein and a great substitute for sour cream) and a sprinkle of grated cheese (for yummy effect).

“Parents are often surprised when their child is willing to try a new food and they like it,” says Warwick, who recently offered an interactive dine-and-learn experience to parents and children as part of Kids Eat Right. What's the secret to getting kiddos involved in eating right? They like hands-on activities. Kids who help chop, mix and serve a broccoli salad, for example, are much more likely to eat that salad and enjoy it.

Over the past two years, the Kids Eat Right program at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula has reached more than 1,800 fourth graders in 18 schools in Monterey County, according to Uriel Mendoza, the programs' enthusiastic coordinator.

In the meantime, busy parents can find a variety of recipes and tips for feeding kids right at Let the school year begin!

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition.” Email her at [email protected].