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How To Teach Kids about Nutrient Density

If you're a parent, you know just how much kids love imitating grown ups, including their gestures, conversations, and behaviors. After all, it's how they learn to socialize and become independent adults.

Of course, this usually means we need to be extra careful of what we say and do—as our little ones are watching closely. But toddlers aren't the only ones playing copycat. Even our teens are mirroring our habits and tendencies. This might also be true when it comes to what we eat.

For instance, if you make it a point to ensure your kids eat a balanced breakfast each morning, hats off to you! But are you doing the same? Although you work hard to put the best ingredients on your kids' plates, you might not be paying enough attention to your own—and kids can take notice.

As a parent raising one, two, or more kids, life gets busy, and too often, moms and dads may sacrifice their own wellness journeys so they can put others first. 

But it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, making mindful food choices can be something you all do together!

Starting a new family tradition

If nutrition and teaching healthy habits was never a part of your household growing up, you might be looking for ways to break the cycle and start making nutrient density a new family lifestyle.

In this article, we share a few tips on how to make mindful food choices whether you're cooking up breakfast, lunch, dinner, or—our favorite—snacks!

Before we get started, we should first explain what we mean by nutrient density.

What is the definition of nutrient density?

Nutrient density refers to the contribution of nutrients and food components per calorie. Okay, that may sound a bit confusing for a 10 year old to understand. So, let's break this down even further.

Picture this: you're at the store, standing in the snack aisle, holding two boxes of crackers. 

Each box has 100 calories per serving, but upon closer inspection, you see that the one box of crackers contains more protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals vs. the other option. Therefore, that box of crackers has more nutrients per calorie serving, ensuring every bite counts! 

What is an example of nutrient density?

According to the American Heart Association, nutrient-dense foods, or sometimes referred to as nutrient rich, are high in macro-and-micro-nutrients and low in saturated fats and sodium.

"We’re talking fruits, vegetables, whole grains, non-fat and low-fat dairy, fish and seafood, unprocessed lean meat and skinless poultry, nuts and legumes, " (American Heart Association).

Read our blog on how to identify nutrient-dense foods to discover more tasty examples!

How to teach kids about calories vs. nutrition

Have you ever heard the phrase "empty calories?" This refers to food items that are mainly high in added sugars and solid fats with little to no nutritional value, including: 

  • Some carbohydrate-based desserts
  • Soda
  • Ice cream
  • Sports drinks
  • Sweetened iced teas

How to make nutrient density a family routine

Want to make nutrient density a part of everyday life in your household? Check out these tips that will have both parents and kids practicing mindful eating habits.

Get the facts first!

As everyone, even kids, requires a different amount of calories, based on height, weight, activity level, etc. it's important to familiarize yourself with the recommended amount of calories you and your family need to help determine whether you're getting too much or too little.

Get the facts with this helpful resource on Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Meal-plan like a team

Going back to the example of the box of crackers, have your kids look at food labels with you to compare nutritional facts, decide which items are more nutrient dense, and discuss why that is. 

Having your kids shop with you or help you prepare the grocery list ahead of time is a great way to make them part of the meal-planning process. It gives them more autonomy to make these important decisions early on and understand how to choose different nutrient-rich ingredients to create an entire meal.

Also, imagine not having to rack your brain about "what's for dinner" on your own anymore! The benefits of this tip are endless.

Make nutrient density a popular dinner topic

A great way to introduce nutrient density to the family is by simply talking about it. Encourage your kids to ask questions, tell stories, or maybe even do their own research and share their findings with everyone at dinner.

Make nutrient density a lifestyle!

Pursuing a food/life balance takes patience and practice. So, it's okay to get frustrated from time to time. You're already a role model in your kids' eyes and that can be a lot of pressure. But remember this. When you make nutrient density a part of your routine, your kids will see your actions and follow your lead.

One of the best things you can do for them is to take care of yourself, as well. Because when you thrive, they will, too!

Stay Connected!

Be sure to check out our blog page for more lifestyle tips and news on nutrient density, blood sugar impact, and nutrition. We'll continue to share helpful articles that aim to educate and empower you!

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