Eating healthy is something most of us strive to do, but it is not easy. We are bombarded daily by advertisements that encourage exaggeratedly large portions. Our streets are lined with cheap and convenient fast food temptations. Social media feeds suggest a new “magical weight loss food” or fad diet to us each week. We have access to so much information today, and it is often hard to discern what is healthy and what is not. As pediatricians, we feel it is important that scientific evidence guides what we put on our plates.
A recent study published by the American Heart Association showed that people who eat three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit daily live longer lives than those who do not. A good rule of thumb is to fill half our plates with fruits and veggies. The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics uses Eatright.org to provide information about portion sizes, healthy recipes, tips for eating healthy at school and on a budget, and more. We also encourage parents to ask questions about their child’s diet at annual well exams. Pediatricians love to discuss dietary changes that will make your children healthier now and teach them to make healthy choices as they grow into adulthood.
Preparing meals at home with fresh ingredients is a great way to improve our physical health, but taking time to cook and eat dinner as a family is also a great way to strengthen parent-child relationships, encourage creativity and connect with family and cultural traditions. It also allows children to discuss their daily activities, plans, achievements and struggles, which is important for mental health development.
An additional nutritional concern in our pediatric community is hunger. Feeding America estimates more than 73,000 children in West Virginia struggle with accessing healthy food. Limited or lost employment during the COVID-19 pandemic has placed an additional strain on many families. Choosing between food and other essentials is something that no parent should have to do. There are resources that help families put healthy food on the table. The Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) helps pregnant women and mothers access healthy food, formula and breastfeeding education. Contact the Cabell County WIC office at 304-302-2013 for more information. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides monthly benefits to eligible households to buy food. Additional information is available by calling the Cabell County DHHR office at 304-528-5800.
Food will always be a part of our lives. Introducing children at a young age to healthy eating, the kitchen and family dinners can set them up to have a healthy relationship with food and provide a cornerstone to a healthy and happy life.