AUGUST 3, 2021 — Busy parents want to serve their children healthy options — quick and easy.
Little children want to be in charge.
Play Every Day’s new messages focus on helping parents and children get what they both want when it comes to healthy foods and drinks. A new message shared this week models a parenting technique that’s often taught to families with toddlers and preschool-age children. Children want to be in charge of their choices. Recognizing that, parents can give them choices, but limit those options to two and make sure both choices are acceptable to the family. That way, the child feels empowered to make a choice and the parent is happy with it either way.
“Our new message uses this technique with serving food and drinks,” said Diane Peck, registered dietitian with Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program. “The parent offers two choices to the little child, both of them healthy. The child can have unsweetened applesauce or a little orange, whole grain crackers or cheese, water or milk. Serving kids grab-and-go options can be quick and easy, and this message shows there are a lot of options that don’t have added sugar.”
This new message will be shared along with Play Every Day’s other new 30-second video showing little kids eating the healthy options they're offered — no added sugar needed. Play Every Day supports giving children food and drink options that will keep kids healthy. Eating a variety of healthy foods and drinks supports children as they grow, develop and learn. Healthy options also help protect children from diseases that occur later in life, like diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Whole-grain foods, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and protein give children more energy to play every day, too.
Giving two healthy choices to children
The technique of giving two choices to children can help them build confidence and make better decisions about their food choices as they grow up. Many young children enjoy being involved in picking out groceries, helping prepare food and choosing what to eat. Children are learning all about control and autonomy during the toddler and preschool years. Involving little kids in deciding what they want to eat can make incorporating these healthy choices into their diets much easier, Peck said.
“Keeping healthy snacks at home and having them ready to take with you wherever you go makes offering healthy choices easier,” Peck said. “Unsweetened yogurt with berries, a small box of raisins or diced dried fruit, apple and orange slices, raw veggies like baby carrots or snap peas, small bags of unsweetened whole-grain dry cereal, and hardboiled eggs are delicious and easy options to offer your children. Pack a water bottle so you have a healthy drink to give a thirsty child.”
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And again.
Sometimes little kids like unsweetened foods right away. This summer, we filmed little kids who happily ate unsweetened yogurt, broccoli, oat cereal and fish. They drank plain milk and water. Some kids need to try these foods and drinks more than once, maybe many times, before they’re interested in eating them regularly.
If you’re having a hard time getting children to eat new and healthy foods, you’re not alone. The American Academy of Pediatrics shares tips for helping toddlers choose healthy foods and drinks. It’s common for kids to be stubborn about trying new foods. They may repeatedly ask for unhealthy snacks like cookies and sugary fruit drinks. Don’t worry too much if that happens, Peck said. Instead of offering sweetened options, keep encouraging children by offering new healthy foods and drinks many times.
Repeated exposure to new foods can include merely seeing a new food on the table, helping prepare the food, or trying a small bite. It may take 10 or more times of seeing a new food before a child is willing to try it. Continue to offer healthy foods to your child with a positive attitude. These frequent exposures can help encourage children to eat healthier for a lifetime.
Choosing healthy doesn’t have to be hard
When you’re in a hurry, you’re looking for convenient options. Grab-and-go doesn’t have to mean heading to a drive-through restaurant and doesn’t require packaged food with added sugar. Added sugars are sugars that are added during food processing, not sugars that occur naturally in foods like whole fruits.
Families with hectic schedules can use several strategies to serve their children healthy, convenient options. Keeping healthier choices in your fridge and pantry means there are better snack choices when you need them. Buying healthier packaged snacks without added sugar or making your own small bags of healthy snacks can make it more convenient to eat when time is short. You can pack small bags of whole wheat crackers and small single servings of cheese. Older kids can eat string cheese. Families can find yogurts and pouches of pureed fruits and vegetables that are easy to carry in a backpack and come with no added sugar. Check the Nutrition Facts label and choose options without sweeteners. You’ll know that’s the case if the “Includes Added Sugars” line under “Total Carbohydrates” says 0 grams. It is easy for processed foods and drinks to hide added sugar, making it important to keep checking nutrition labels.
Find and share Play Every Day materials
Play Every Day will be sharing more of its new messages for families in the coming months on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and playeveryday.alaska.gov. The webpage housed on the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services website is currently unavailable, but repairs are underway. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request print and other materials to share in schools, preschools, child care centers, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, and other locations.
Play Every Day is a campaign with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to help Alaska children grow up at a healthy weight and encourage families to be physically active and choose healthy foods and drinks. For more information, visit www.playeveryday.alaska.gov.