Helping Children Develop Healthy Eating Habits

This post is sponsored by CHOC Children’s

.Helping Children Develop Healthy Eating HabitsFeeding my family healthy meals has become increasingly important to me as a parent. As our lives have become busier and time is scarce, it’s been my goal to crack the code on getting my family to eat healthy. I was able to chat with Dr. Eric Ball, a pediatrician at Southern Orange County Pediatrics Associates, and President of the American Association of Pediatrics of OC, and we had a great discussion on how to help children develop patterns of healthy eating. I am so excited to share some of the knowledge he passed on to me!

It’s okay if kids don’t eat during every meal

If you’re a parent like me, then most likely you have worried that your child doesn’t eat enough during meal time. There are times when I’ve had a kid eat nothing from their plate during dinnertime. It’s not only frustrating, but also worrisome that my child is not getting enough nutrients or sustenance to fill their tummies.

Dr. Ball has assured me that you don’t have to worry. It is okay for kids not to eat during mealtimes. They eventually will eat when they are hungry. It’s perfectly normal to have times when kids will only eat one meal a day. Do not make them their own special meal just to get them to eat something. Simply present them with the food you’ve prepared at every meal, and at some point they will eat. Don’t give in. Kids need to learn how to eat a variety of foods, not just the few foods they demand.

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Obesity in kids is one of the biggest problems seen in kids.

Obesity is a huge problem for children here in the United States. Video games, non-planned activities, processed foods and empty calories – such as soda and juice can be to blame for part of this problem. Dr. Ball explained that many parents come to him not knowing that their children are overweight. When your kids are babies, they may have baby rolls and baby fat, but as they pass the toddler stage, they should thin out. Most kids between the ages of 5 – 6 years look a bit skinny when they are a healthy normal weight. Around 9-10 years kids get a little pudgy before they thin out in their teens.

As parents, our responsibility is to provide healthy food. Our kid’s responsibility is to eat it…or not. If you are providing all healthy food, it’s okay if your child eats a lot. Kids can only eat so many carrots! It is the junk that causes obesity. It is important to not let your child become overweight in the first place as it is hard for our bodies to go backwards. Once we become overweight, our bodies become comfortable at that weight, our metabolisms slow down, and losing weight can become harder and harder. This is why healthy eating starting from infancy is so important.

How to Feed Kids a Healthy Diet

Dr. Ball suggests that the best way to stick to a healthy family diet is to meal plan for the week. By planning weekly meals and shopping at the beginning of the week, you will not only save money by avoiding last minute stops at drive thru restaurants, but it also saves money and helps you to avoid buying things you don’t need.

Whether you win or lose will be determined at the grocery store, so be careful what you buy. If there are things that you don’t want your child to eat, then don’t bring it home with you (this is a good reminder for yourself too!) Only buy food that you don’t mind your kids eating. The biggest thing Dr. Ball suggests, is to avoid processed food. Foods that don’t need a nutrition label are what are best to buy – fruits, veggies and meat. These are the “real foods” you should focus on buying. Also, don’t worry too much about buying everything organic. The United States has very strict laws on making sure our food is healthy. And just because something says “organic,” doesn’t mean it is healthy. Even junk food can be organic. If you want to buy organic, that is fine. If you have to choose one thing to buy organic, Dr. Ball suggests fruits where you eat the peels.

To make mealtime better, Dr. Ball gave me some ideas. For breakfast, cut-up fruit for the kids to graze on throughout the morning. Many kids skip out on breakfast, so this is an easy way to get kids to grab some healthy calories to start off the day. Let kids pack their own lunches and put whatever they want in it. Since you have done the shopping, they will only have access to healthy food, so it doesn’t matter what they pack. Planned snacks are great, set out fruit, cheese, peanut butter, veggies, and/or nuts. For dinner, make sure 50% of your meal is fruits and veggies.

What Foods Kids Should Avoid

There are some foods that kids should never eat. It is best to try to avoid these foods whenever possible or simply savor during special occasions. Soda, juice, sweetened sports drinks, cereal, and sugary foods shouldn’t be a regular part of any child’s diet. Treat anything in a package as a treat and eat sparingly. A lot of junk foods are very appealing to kids with their cartoon wrappers and bright fun colors. It can be hard to keep these foods away from our kids, but try hard to stick to a healthy diet as your kids will eventually develop healthy habits. Did you know that kids almost never need sports drinks during or after practice? It would take running in a marathon to actually become deficient in electrolytes. Water is a much better choice, and if you are looking for something to replenish a workout, eating orange slices is a much better idea.

Healthy Eating, Healthy Lives

So much of our lives revolve around food, and if we can promote a healthy eating lifestyle, our children’s lives will be greatly improved. There are many little things we can do when it comes to food. Things like – prioritizing family dinners can improve communication with the entire family, getting in the habit of carrying a water bottle with you can increase water intake, and resisting bringing in “bad” foods into the home in the first place can reduce temptations. Eating healthy can increase our energy, make us feel happier and create good eating habits.

I am really glad that I got to speak with Dr. Ball and learn more about healthy eating patterns for children. Many of his tips are also relevant to adults, so they are great reminders on how all of us should live. By instilling healthy eating habits in our kids from a young age, they will grow up with these same habits. Something that they will one day thank you for!

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The Importance of Play in Children

The Importance of Play in Children

This is a sponsored post from CHOC Children’s.

Have you ever thought about how important “play” is for children? We have all heard the word PLAY…but what does it exactly entail? I knew that letting my children have playtime was important…I did not really know why. I was able to chat with Dr. Harpreet Kaur, a psychologist at CHOC Children’s, and we discussed all about the importance of play and the benefits play brings to kids.

What is “Play”

Dr. Harpreet Kaur shared that there are many different kinds of “PLAY” and we encourage children’s play to be self-directed, imaginative, and un-structured…meaning not lead by adults. Play can include playing with friends, toys, games or free time at the park, pool or beach. There are so many ways that children can play.

Play is an important part of the childhood development and can include social play, constructive play, imaginative play, and games with rules. Through play, children learn about their environment, cause and effect, and self-concept, according to Dr. Kaur. She adds that play helps kids learn social, motor, communication, and conflict resolution skills.

Many things can interfere with unstructured playtime for children including electronics and screen time, busy schedules and increased attention to academics and extracurricular activities. The importance of play time has diminished for our children and doctors have observed that children have fewer opportunities to just play and be kids. Schools have less recess, hurried lifestyles leave less time for free child-centered play, and there is less focus on imaginative and unstructured activities. It’s not like when we were kids and ran all over the neighborhood until the street lights went on. Playdates are scheduled, sports have become more competitive, and more families have two parents working which can mean less family time.

The Benefits of Play

Play is important for healthy brain development in our children. Play allows children to develop their imaginations, fine motor skills, and their physical, cognitive, and emotional capabilities. It teaches children to engage and interact in the world around them. Through play, Dr. Kaur says, children are able to make independent decisions without fear of failure or consequences, and that helps them learn to manage their own thoughts, feelings and actions.

There are many benefits of play and it is important that our children can get as much playtime as possible. Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups and to share with others. Did you know when they play with friends, they learn negotiation skills, decision-making skills, leadership skills, resolve conflict and gain confidence in themselves?

Many times, people tend to think that only outdoor activities are considered “good playtime.” While it’s fun to play outside, especially here in beautiful Orange County, you can also find things to do inside when the weather isn’t as nice. Kids can get great benefits of playing inside as well as outside. The main thing is to turn off the electronics, let children lead in the activities, and not to get over-scheduled about it.

Lastly, play not only has a lot of cognitive benefits, but it also has physical benefits. Play helps build healthy bodies and decreases the chances of obesity ― one of the biggest epidemics seen in kids today.

Ways to Fit Play in Your Busy Lifestyle

First of all, there is no set amount of time that should be required for play. Our lives don’t need more stress trying to schedule play. In fact, that is the opposite of what we are hoping to achieve. Just try to fit it in whenever possible…the more the better! When children play, it’s important to make sure they move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and become fully immersed in the passions they wish to pursue.

Everyone in the family can benefit from unstructured downtime, so it’s a good idea to leave parts of your schedule open when possible. If you don’t have any down time, you can even play games in the car. Storytelling and made-up games to play whenever there is a free moment can help you find ways to fit more play into busy schedules. You can even make chores such as setting the table and picking up toys into games. Toddlers and young children learn a lot from imaginative play. As they become older, the imaginative play decreases, but they can still get great unstructured social and physical play time with leisure sports, games, or free-time that doesn’t involve a screen, says Dr. Kaur.

My Family’s Favorite Places to Play in Orange County

Orange County has a goldmine of places that give our children the opportunity of healthy play. Our weather is beautiful all year round, so our children can enjoy lots of outdoor play. Beach play is my family’s favorite location for  outdoor play. Kids can build sandcastles, hunt for beach treasures, play in the water and make up all sorts of make believe games. We also have some great hiking trails and nature centers that allow kids the chance to explore and learn in their own ways.

Some of my family’s favorites are Oak Canyon Nature Center, Oso Creek Nature Trail, Peter & Mary Muth Interpretive Center, Bolsa Chica Wetlands, and the Ocean Institute. Museums such as Discovery Cube, Pretend City and the La Habra Children’s Museum are favorites of mine for learning in an unstructured environment, along with lots of chances for imaginative play. Finally, we have some amazing parks such as Bluebird Park in Laguna Beach, Atlantis Park in Garden Grove, the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, and even some super cool unique ones such as Adventure Playground in Irvine, and Adventure playground in Huntington Beach.

Time to Play

I hope that this post inspires you to get out and play with your children. Dr. Kaur has given us a good reminder that not every part of our lives need to be structured and that we should allow our kids to lead in some of the activities we do. It is okay to let them get dirty, feel, touch, and explore their surroundings, imagine, run around, dance, and put their imaginations into action. Not only will they enjoy themselves, they will also greatly benefit from it. Something that I am sure all of us parents want for our children. Time to play!

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