March is National Nutrition Month, an annual campaign created in 1973 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to educate the public about healthy eating habits.
This month, Step Forward's Head Start sites hosted activities focused on making informed food choices and the importance of nutrition.
"It's important to emphasize the benefits of healthy eating," Marilyn Moore, Step Forward's Nutrition Specialist, said. "Eating a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy products and healthy fats can provide children with the nutrients they need to grow and develop properly, support their immune system, and help them maintain a healthy weight."
Statistics show childhood obesity is a public health problem nationwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2017 and 2020, obesity affected more than 14 million children and adolescents. Obesity was prevalent in 12.7 percent of 2–5-year-olds, 20 percent of 6–11-year-olds, and 22 percent among 12–19-year-olds. It impacted 26 percent of Hispanic children, 25 percent of non-Hispanic Black children, 16 percent among non-Hispanic White children and 9 percent among non-Hispanic Asian children. Obesity among children and adolescents also led to other conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and more.
"Promoting healthy eating at a young age is important to establish lifelong health habits," Moore explained. "Eating habits developed in childhood often carry over into adulthood. If children learn to make healthy food choices early in life, they are more likely to continue to make those choices as adults, leading to better long-term health outcomes."
Studies have shown that children who eat a healthy diet have better academic performance, improved cognitive function and better concentration.
"Healthy eating and understanding nutrition as a child can also help to build a positive relationship with food," Moore said.
Here are some tips for promoting healthy eating in children:
1. Lead by example. Children are more likely to adopt healthy eating habits if they see their parents and caregivers eating a variety of healthy foods.
2. Make mealtime fun. Involve children in meal planning and preparation, and make meals visually appealing by using colorful fruits and vegetables.
3. Encourage children to try new foods. Offer a variety of healthy foods and encourage children to try at least a bite of each one.
4. Limit sugary drinks and snacks. Encourage children to drink water and milk, and offer healthy snacks like fruit, vegetables, and whole-grain crackers.
5. Teach children about nutrition. Help children understand the importance of eating a balanced diet and the benefits of different types of foods.
6. Limit screen time during meals. Encourage children to focus on their food and the company around them during meals, rather than on electronic devices.
7. Be patient. It may take time for children to develop healthy eating habits, so be patient and keep offering healthy foods.
Here are some fun child activities to celebrate healthy eating and nutrition:
1. Create a healthy food collage. Provide children with magazines, newspapers, or grocery store flyers and have them cut out pictures of healthy foods. Encourage them to create a collage that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
2. Make a healthy snack. Have children help prepare a healthy snack, like apple slices with peanut butter or veggies with hummus. This can be a fun way to teach them about healthy food choices and involve them in meal preparation.
3. Go on a healthy food scavenger hunt. Make a list of healthy foods and have children search for them around the house or at the grocery store. This can be a fun way to teach them about different types of healthy foods and encourage them to try new things.
4. Play nutrition trivia. Create a list of nutrition questions and quiz children on their knowledge of healthy foods and nutrition. This can be a fun way to teach them about the importance of healthy eating and reinforce what they've learned.
5. Plant a vegetable garden. Planting a vegetable garden can be a fun way for children to learn about healthy foods and where they come from. Encourage children to help plant and care for the garden and use the vegetables they grow to make healthy meals and snacks.
6. Make a healthy meal together. Pick a healthy recipe and have children help prepare the meal. This can be a fun way to teach them about healthy food choices and involve them in meal preparation.
Happy National Nutrition Month!
Give your child a Head Start and enroll today! Click here.
Step Forward Head Start is hiring!
The agency is offering a sign-on bonus of $1,000 for full time employees and $500 for part-time employees.
Positions include teachers, family service workers, nutrition aides and more. Step Forward Head Start is looking for education staff passionate about preparing young students for the future and helping them develop a love for learning early. Take a step toward a new fulfilling career today! Learn more and apply to open positions here.