With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, its time to show our children just how important it is to love your own heart. February is American Heart Month, which makes it the perfect time to raise awareness of heart health for your entire family. With heart disease being the number one killer of both men and women in the US, and child obesity rates on the rise, every member of the household from toddler to elder can benefit from adding heart healthy nutrients into their meal plan.
Boosting the heart health benefits of meals doesn’t have to be boring or cause those much dreaded food battles. With a few easy tricks, you can have your children excited about their meals, willing to try new food, and most importantly eating a nutritious, heart healthy diet and enjoying it!
#1 Make Fruits & Vegetables Fun
The research is clear. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables have been shown to be protective to the heart by helping to maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels while promoting a healthy body weight. But as any parent with a picky eater is aware, just telling your child to eat their veggies does not always work. So how can you get your little ones to start gobbling up their greens without a fight? Make it fun!
The more creative you can be with your little one’s food, the more likely they will be to try it. Try cutting fruit and vegetables into fun shapes, calling them fun names such as broccoli ‘trees’ or carrot stick ‘swords,’ and allowing your child to take a stab at creating food art will have them begging to eat produce. A simple activity of arranging fruits and vegetables into funny faces can increase your child’s exposure to new foods, which over time has been shown to increase acceptance and intake. And you don’t have to be an artist to make food art fun. Just be creative, silly, and have fun with it. Your kids, and your whole family, will love it. Who wouldn’t want to eat food that looks this fun?
#2 Say No to Fat Free
If you were under the impression that all dietary fats are damaging to the heart, think again! Plant based fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats have been found to provide multiple health benefits such as improving cholesterol levels, decreasing inflammation, and even promoting a healthy body weight. Incorporating a good source of these nutritious fats daily may aid in nutrient absorption while promoting heart health. Great sources include nuts, seeds, avocado, hummus, and plant-based oils such as olive oil. To help your children incorporate more healthy fats into their meal plan, aim to add a healthy fat source to every meal and snack. Try topping cereal or yogurt with chopped walnuts, snacking on a handful of almonds, or using hummus or guacamole as a dip. Cooking in plant-based oils such as olive or avocado oil can be another great way to add these healthy fats into your family’s diet.
#3 Hello Whole Grains
Grains are a staple in many meals and snacks and include foods such as bread, pasta, rice, and pretzels. Although most of us eat plenty of grains, we aren’t always choosing whole grains. On average, most people consume just one serving of whole grains per day. That means that the majority of grains we are ingesting are the refined, rapidly digested forms, which can have a negative impact on overall health. Whole grains on the other hand can promote a healthy heart. These nutrient-dense foods are packed full of soluble fiber, a form of fiber that has been found to decrease unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels.
If you worry that your child will never become a whole wheat bread covert, there’s no need to be concerned. Whole grains don’t just have to be just whole wheat. One hundred percent whole grains include options such as rye bread, brown rice, quinoa, and even popcorn (and what kid doesn’t love popcorn?!). Try introducing your child to a variety of whole grain options to find out what they love. You can even use whole grain flours, such as oat flour, to create family favorites such as pancakes and muffins.
#4 Embracing Balance
Teaching your child the important of balancing a variety of food groups at each meal is a fantastic way to get them started on the path to good health. Research has shown that visual cues are one of the best ways to educate portion size and meal planning. Using a compartmentalized lunchbox such as Yumbox, you can help illustrate what a balanced meal looks like to your child. The individualized compartments with graphics and text help to make meal planning fun and educational. Younger children can use the visual images to help them identify food groups, while older children can begin to understand the basics of meal planning and portion control. Providing a balanced meal rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean protein, low fat dairy, and healthy fats at each meal is the perfect combination for a healthy heart. Using a tool like Yumbox can help to take the stress out of meal planning and transform heart healthy eating into a fun activity the entire family can join in on together.