By Connie Evers MS, RD, LD – Nutrition for Kids
Connie’s Healthy Eating Blog – Healthy Eating, One Step at a Time
Making food choices you can live with is the key to long-term health
March is National Nutrition Month®, which is a great time to reflect on your eating habits and set some goals for long term, sustainable changes. This year’s theme is “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day.”
Most of us are falling short when it comes to eating well on a daily basis. The average American follows the MyPlate guidelines just 2% of the time, according to consumer research from the NPD Group. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that just 14% of adults and fewer than 10% of teens eat at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruits each day.
Reversing these well-entrenched habits isn’t always easy, but the benefits are well worth the effort. Improved energy, better school, sports and work performance, and less chronic disease are just a few reasons to focus on nutrient-dense food choices. It’s best to start simple, so here are some steps to get you started.
Start By Writing It Down
Keep a food diary for a few days. Write down everything you eat and drink for a minimum of two week days and one weekend day. You will soon start to see patterns emerge. Are you skimping on whole grains? Skipping meals and then over-indulging later in the day? Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages to quench thirst? Packing in too many snacks before bed? Dining at the drive-thru? You get the idea.
Pick One Thing
Don’t try to overcome every bad eating habit at once. Your habits took years to build so don’t expect an overnight overhaul. In fact, by approaching change in a steady, step-wise manner, your new routines and habits are more likely to stick.
Set a Goal
Once you have identified problem areas, set small goals for improvement. In my work with kids and teens, I use the S.N.A.C.K. system for setting goals.
S = Small
Is this goal small enough so that I can meet it in a short period of time?
N = Needed
Is this a change that I need to make for better health?
A = Achievable
Can I achieve this goal? Will I need the help of others to meet this goal? Is it a goal that I can really accomplish?
C = Can I Count it?
Is this goal written in a way that I can count and measure my progress?
K = Know-How
Do I know enough to succeed at meeting this goal? Where would I find more information on this topic?
Using these guidelines, we’ll then brainstorm examples of S.N.A.C.K. goals together. Kids always have lots of great ideas! Here are some real-world examples from the children I work with:
● Try at least two new fruits this week.
● Eat breakfast before school every day this week.
● Choose an after-school snack that has at least two of the food groups.
● When you are thirsty, drink water instead of sweetened drinks at least 5 times this week.
● Order a side of apple slices, raisins, carrots, or salad instead of French fries at least once this week.
● Drink or eat three servings dairy foods (1% milk, low-fat yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverage) every day.
● Eat one more serving of whole grains each day. (read labels to find out which foods have a whole grain listed first in the ingredient list).
● Eat at least one cup of green vegetable every day this week.
● Visit the grocery store and identify at least two new fruits or vegetables to try this week.
Make It a Group Effort
Making better food choices works best when the entire family gets involved. Children are still in the process of forming habits so positive adult role modeling can be very powerful. If everyone agrees on a goal, it’s also easier to plan menus, shop, cook and agree on timing for family meals.
Best of all, seeing your progress towards healthier eating is both motivating and habit-forming! By making small changes, step by step and week by week, your family will soon be on the way to improved eating habits, more energy and better health.
More about National Nutrition Month®:
National Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign created annually in March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Visit Eat Right for nutrition education resources, tips, videos, blogs and more.