As parents know, it can be challenging to prepare a meal that is both healthy and appetizing to children. A nutritious meal that goes uneaten can make for a frustrating dinner.
Even more than the rest of us, kids crave sugary and salty foods — just the type that are bad for the heart.
Though heart health is often thought of exclusively as a concern for older adults, nutrition matters at all of life’s stages. One study of 9,000 kids ages six to 11 found that four in 10 had issues with cholesterol and virtually none ate a healthy diet.
An active lifestyle and good nutrition are the most important things you can do for your children’s heart. What your kids are eating today — not to mention the eating habits they learn — could echo through their life decades later.
There’s good news: Even from an early age, your child’s nutrition can lower his or her risk of heart disease later in life. And you don’t have to be a four-star chef to make a difference.
Using guidance from the American Heart Association, we’ll share tips on ways to prepare and serve meals that don’t strain your time or budget.
It starts at the store
Cooking more meals at home means you control what’s in your kids’ food, and making heart-healthy meals starts at the grocery store. Here are some suggestions from the AHA to get you started.
● Take a look at the nutrition label. There, you can get a sense of the size of a single serving and how much your family would consume if they ate the whole package.
● Check the “% Daily Value (DV)” to see how much of each nutrient, good and bad, are in each serving. Try to choose food with less than five percent of your daily value of saturated fat or sodium, and more of the healthy nutrients, like fiber. Flat-out avoid trans fats.
● Even if a label says a serving contains “0 g” of trans fat, if “partially hydrogenated oil” appears in the ingredient list, the food contains some trans fats. Even if it has only a small amount, a few servings of this food could hit your daily trans fat limit.
● Frozen, canned or dried fruits and vegetables can be just as nutritious as their fresher versions. Pick fruit canned in water, light syrup or its own juice.
● Choosing “whole-grain” bread, crackers, cereals, pasta, and tortillas isn’t as simple as it looks. Many products are colored to appear as if they’re whole grain, so look for “whole-grain” or “whole” followed by a grain name as the first item in the ingredient list.
● Look for the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark to find foods that meet the group’s science-based nutrition requirements.
If you’re uncertain where to begin, here are a sample of the American Heart Association’s meal ideas to point you in the right direction. Consider printing out or bookmarking on your phone the association’s online list of dozens of recipes so it’s easily accessible while making your grocery list.
Each recipe includes simple directions, complete nutritional information and the estimated cost per serving.
A classic updated, this simple recipe has more fiber and less saturated fat and salt than previous versions. With 36 grams of protein — three-fourths of the typical woman’s daily needs and two-thirds of a man’s — it’s a way to get your kids to eat vegetables without even knowing it.
Though it is a popular comfort food, Chinese take-out is often heavy on the sugar and salt. This version cuts out the sugar and fat of its restaurant counterparts and finds its sweetness from pineapples with Splenda.
To get all the richness of homemade chicken soup, let your slow cooker do the work.
This recipe has a little of everything: It’s sweet, savory and healthy. It’s the taste of Thanksgiving all year long, at less than two dollars per serving.
If you have 45 minutes, this recipe offers a flavorful, tangy twist on chicken. What kid doesn’t love chicken tenders and fries? Plus, this recipe offers plenty of protein in a naturally low-fat meal.
If these options aren’t a home run on their first at bat, try again another time. Children may need to be introduced to a new food 10 or more times before they’ll accept it.
You feel what you eat
Scientists are learning more every year about the connection between what you eat and how you feel. For example, a chemical called serotonin plays far-reaching roles in sleep, mood and appetite.
Though the chemical transmits messages for your brain, most of it is in your gut. And there is new evidence that the right diet can tap this well of good feelings.
Nutritional psychiatry is a new field, but dietary advice for emotional health is similar to heart health. Avoid added sugars, limit processed foods and seek out fruits, vegetables and fish.
At Florida Hospital, we will help you and your family find the connections between a healthy heart and a full life — physically, emotionally and spiritually.