FORT POLK, La. — April is the Month of the Military Child and the military health system understands that children have different nutritional needs than adults to support their developing minds and bodies.
A healthy diet lowers the risk of chronic diseases that can affect kids for a lifetime and good nutrition can enhance a child’s academic performance.
First Lt. Rebecca Prince, chief of nutrition care for Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, said the difficulty in motivating kids to eat healthy is getting them to care about nutrition and what their parents feed them.
“Our biggest obstacle is getting kids to care about nutrition when they live in a household that doesn’t prioritize a healthy diet,” she said. “Children can’t go to the store and buy nutritious food. Parental influence
is imperative to ensure children make nutritious and healthy food choices
over the course of their lifetime. If parents stock their cupboards with junk food, that’s what children will eat.”
Prince said children are often influenced by others. If kids see their parents and other children eating healthfully, they are more likely to choose foods that are better for them.
“Good nutrition makes kids more adventurous and autonomous eaters,” she said. “Autonomous eaters often make more healthful choices and are willing to try new and different foods.”
Prince said kids who eat nutritious foods are often more well-rounded socially.
They feel fit and are healthier, giving them the energy and endurance to succeed in life.
“There is a social aspect of healthy eating,” she said. “When kids are confident and daring in their eating habits, they are also more likely to try things outside of their comfort zone. They may be more willing to try out for a sports team or compete in different activities — good nutrition feeds an adventurous spirit.”
Lt. Col. Kevin Goke, chief of behavioral health for BJACH, said appropriate childhood nutrition and fitness is critical to education and emotional development.
“Childhood wellness is grounded in the same foundations used for Soldiers, the performance triad: Sleep, nutrition and fitness,” he said. “Physical activity and well-balanced nutrition promotes overall well being resulting in a well balanced mental health state. No one wants to deal with
the ‘hangry’ child.”
Goke recommends kids take advantage of the warm weather to go outside and be more physically active.
“As kids are home more during the summer months, it is critical to establish solid eating habits,” he said. “Children have faced a challenging environment over the past year and some of their usual outlets are
unavailable. Learning to cook is a positive nutritional outlet parents can teach their children to help them cope with more time at home.”
The Military Health System suggests a healthy balanced diet for kids includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, a variety of proteins and healthy oils.
Children’s diets should also limit calories from solid fats and added sugars, and reduce sodium intake.
Some tips for better childhood nutrition include:
• Limit sugar by replacing sodas, sports drinks and juice with water.
• Reduce extra sodium by reading labels to raise awareness of hidden sodium in children’s food and purchasing reduced sodium items whenever possible.
• Reduce fatty red meat like burgers and increase lean, unprocessed proteins like chicken, seafood, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds.
• Choose whole grains packed with protein, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals whenever possible.
• Serve whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat over refined grains like white bread, pasta and anything made with bleached flour.
• Give children fruits and vegetables for snacks.
The earlier kids get in the habit of healthy snacking, the better.
For more information on childhood nutrition visit https://www.