Helping Grandchildren Make Healthy Meal Choices
Bettye Nowlin is a Los Angeles grandmother who loves spending time with her 3-year-old granddaughter. She's also a registered dietitian.
As a nutrition education specialist and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA), Ms. Nowlin knows that the nation's youth face a serious health risk from obesity. But that doesn't stop her from doing something grandparents are famous for. "We like to eat," she says. "Eating together and sitting around a table," Ms. Nowlin adds, "is one way we bond. But it's also one way grandparents help kids form good habits that contribute to good nutrition."
Sue Moores agrees. Ms. Moores, a Minnesota nutrition consultant, is also a registered dietitian and ADA spokeswoman. "There's a special bond between grandparents and grandkids," she says. "Children learn by watching, and grandparents are special role models. That means they can bring a healthy perspective about food to a child's world."
Ms. Nowlin and Ms. Moores offer some ways you can help your grandchildren develop good food habits.
Serve healthy foods you enjoy
One mistake grandparents make, Ms. Moores says, is serving what they think kids like. "But kids can get pizza or a hamburger and fries almost any time," she says. "Grandparents have an opportunity to introduce kids to new whole foods they seldom experience." She says serving unprocessed foods and making soups, roasts, and stews that use leaner meats and fresh vegetables help kids learn that healthy foods taste good.
"Kids will eat what's there when they're hungry," Ms. Nowlin says. "But they also like it when you serve them food you ate and enjoyed when you were young."
Take the grandkids shopping with you
Kids like going places with grandma and grandpa. "And taking them grocery shopping," Ms. Nowlin adds, "is a great way to teach them about foods they may not be familiar with." You can increase their interest in the trip by letting them help plan the meal and make the grocery list before you go.
Ms. Nowlin says letting young children help you put away the food when you come home is another great teaching opportunity. "You can make a game out of sorting foods into dairy, fruits and vegetables, and other items on the food pyramid . That way you can talk about why certain foods are good for you and about eating a balanced diet."
Keep healthy snacks on hand
Rather than stocking up on junk food before the grandkids come, Ms. Moores says, prepare a tray of fresh fruit to set out or keep in the refrigerator. Apples, oranges, plums, even cherries or nuts make a nice alternative to the chips, candy, and other fattening snacks kids fill up on.
"Kids like to drink things out of bottles," Ms. Nowlin says. "So kids will drink water instead of sodas if you have bottled water in the refrigerator." Juice boxes can also be a healthy alternative to sodas, although some are surprisingly high in sugar.
Ms. Nowlin says school-aged kids like it when they have a special place in the refrigerator just for them. "You can fix healthy snacks like celery with peanut butter and raisins or fruit slices that they can go get themselves when they are hungry."
Dine out in good health
Take advantage of trips to eat in restaurants other than fast food chains. "Grandparents usually aren't there every day," Ms. Moores says. "So kids like going special places for meals with them. They especially like going somewhere that you tell them is one of your favorite places." Picking restaurants with healthy dishes, she says, can "open their eyes" to good choices.
Occasionally eating fast food, such as a hot dog at a ball game or a hamburger at the zoo, is OK, Ms. Nowlin says. "But before you go, talk with the kids and help them decide what they're going to have. That way they don't get caught up in all the unhealthy choices when they get there."
Ms. Nowlin and Ms. Moores emphasize that eating healthy foods is only half of what's needed for good nutrition. The other half is being active.
"Kids like doing things with grandparents," Ms. Moores says. "Go for walks. Help them learn how to use a new tool. Spend time outdoors. Being with grandparents can be a great antidote for all the time they spend sitting in front of the computer or watching TV."