×

How to choose heart healthy foods for kids

February is American Heart Month, but eating healthy is important year-round, especially for children.

vegetable and fruit plate

Image source: Thinkstock

In addition to our own hearts, our children’s hearts and health are also important to remember. There has been a rise in obesity rates and diabetes diagnoses among America’s youth. The foods many children eat bear part of the blame.

Although convenient and inexpensive, fast foods come with shocking price tags as adults when faced with heart disease and medical bills. By setting a good example to your children with healthy food choices and physical activity, you can help your child have a healthy heart and lifestyle.

Some people are predisposed to heart disease, and they can become affected despite following recommendations. This is why screening and cholesterol testing adolescents helps your doctor determine if your child is at risk.

Always consult with your pediatrician before making changes in your child’s diet as this may affect their overall growth.

Healthy food choices

When planning meals, try to select foods that have a high content of nutrients — protein, vitamins and minerals — and are lower in calories, fat and sugar. For children younger than 2 years of age, there is no need to reduce or restrict certain foods, unless advised by your pediatrician. Children older than 2 years of age should be encouraged to choose foods lower in fat, saturated fat and trans fat. By age 5, their diet should include heart healthy foods.

Here are some guidelines for what to choose.

Vegetables and fruit

vegetables

Image source: Thinkstock

Kids will eat vegetables if you do! Plus, they are incredibly healthy — vegetables and fruit are rich sources for potassium, magnesium and fiber.

  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Green beans
  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruits
  • Mangoes
  • Melons
  • Peaches
  • Pineapple
  • Strawberries
  • Many others!

Dairy

Dairy is a major source of calcium and protein.

  • Breast milk (younger than 12 months)
  • Whole milk (12-24 months)
  • Low fat dairy (older than 2 years unless recommended sooner by your pediatrician)
  • Fat-free or low fat regular or frozen yogurt, fat-free, low-fat or reduced fat cheese

Lean meats

These are rich sources of protein and magnesium.

  • Skinless chicken
  • Fish
  • Lean red meats

Whole grains

Whole grains are major sources for energy and fiber.

  • 100% whole wheat bread and rolls
  • Non-sugary cereal, oatmeal, brown rice
  • Unsalted pretzel and popcorn
  • Whole wheat pasta

Nuts, seeds and legumes

This group of foods are rich sources of energy, magnesium, protein and fiber.

  • Almonds
  • Mixed nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Peanut butter
  • Lentils
  • Kidney beans

A Note about Fat

Fat is an essential nutrient in our diets that supplies us with energy (or calories). However, plenty of foods can come loaded with unhealthy fats, especially saturated fat, trans fat and sugar. Saturated fats (fat that is solid at room temperature) include butter, cheese, bacon and meat.

Liquid fats, like oil, contain unsaturated fats. Trans fats began as good fats, but they have been chemically changed to keep foods fresh longer. These include processed foods and baked goods.

Family meals

family meal

Image source: Thinkstock

Eating meals together is an important part of family time. Although schedules can be hectic for everyone (doctors and nurses included!) setting aside several nights a week for family meal time can make a big difference. Eating together can help facilitate family unity, discussions about school or the day and can improve nutrition.

Family meals help discourage eating in front of the TV where children and teens are less likely to talk about their day. Also, while watching TV, we tend to ignore our hunger cues and overeat

Get you kids involved in mealtime! Shopping at the supermarket or farmer’s market is a good way to teach how to make healthy choices. Allowing children to help choose what vegetables to serve or buy can encourage them to try what they choose. It can take a few tries before your child will like certain foods, so don’t give up!

Resources