Teaching children about healthy eating

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photo courtesy of Thinkstock


Teaching children about healthy eating

In January 2007, Canada's Food Guide received a much-needed face-lift -- the first in 14 years. Some of the necessary changes to the popular document include recommendations that you've likely heard before, but when it comes to your health -- and the health of the ones you love -- it never hurts to hear them again.

Recommendations for everyone
When it comes to the whole family, the Food Guide suggests the following:

Eat at least one dark green and one orange vegetable each day. Go for dark green vegetables such as broccoli, romaine lettuce and spinach; for orange, try carrots, sweet potatoes and winter squash.

Choose vegetables and fruits prepared with little or no added fat, sugar or salt. Enjoy vegetables steamed, baked or stir-fried, instead of deep-fried. Have vegetables and fruit more often than juice. If having juice, select natural juice without added sugars.

Eat whole grains. It's important to make the distinction between the terms whole grain and whole wheat. Whole grain items contain the entire grain -- the bran, the germ and the endosperm. The bran and the germ are rich in minerals and fibre and contain a majority of the nutritional value of the grain, while the endosperm contains a majority of the carbohydrate. Some breads labelled as whole wheat can be made with flours that are up to 70 per cent refined.

Recommendations for children and teenagers
As the prevalence of childhood obesity and pediatric obesity continues to grow, the new Food Guide features food servings by age and gender. The new categories are:

Children (boys and girls): Recommended number of food servings per day

 Ages 2-3Ages 4-8Ages 9-13
Vegetables and fruits456
Grain products346
Milk and alternatives223-4
Meat and alternatives112

Teenagers: Recommended number of food servings per day

 Girls (14-18)Boys (14-18)
Vegetables and fruits78
Grain products67
Milk and alternatives3-43-4
Meat and alternatives23

How to determine the right serving size
Confused about what exactly constitutes one serving size? The following are recommended serving sizes for each category:

Vegetables and fruits
• 125 mL (1/2 cup) fresh, frozen or canned
vegetable or fruit or 100% juice
• 250 mL (1 cup) leafy raw vegetables or
• 1 piece of fruit

Grain products
• 1 slice (35 g) bread or 1/2 bagel (45 g)
• 1/2 pita (35 g) or 1/2 tortilla (35 g)
• 125 mL (1/2 cup) cooked rice, pasta or couscous
• 30 g (1 oz) cold cereal or 175 mL (3/4 cup) hot cereal

Milk and alternatives
• 250 mL (1 cup) milk or fortified soy beverage
• 175 g (3/4 cup) yogurt
• 50 g (1-1/2 oz) cheese

Meat and alternatives
• 75 g (2-1/2 oz)/125 mL (1/2 cup) cooked fish, shellfish, poultry or lean meat
• 175 mL (3/4 cup) cooked beans
• 2 eggs
• 30 mL (2 Tbsp) peanut butter


Further action for young Canadians
While the new Food Guide is a move in the right direction, there is certainly room for improvement when it comes to younger Canadians. Because of the variety of food choices in each category, it is possible for children to consume more than the required daily caloric intake. In addition to exercise, I firmly believe in teaching children to eat until they are satisfied, not stuffed. It is also good to ask children if they are hungry or if they are eating out of boredom, habit, etc. Other kid-friendly tips for parents and caretakers to consider:

Always have cut-up fruits and vegetables in the house as healthy "grabbables." Offer dips such as hummus, ranch dressing or baba ghanoush. For a treat, drizzle some dark chocolate syrup over fruits such as pears, apples and berries.

Go organic. Although organic foods may cost more, decreasing your child's exposure to herbicides, pesticides and fungicides is of the utmost importance.

Shop wisely. In addition to whole grain breads, fruits, vegetables and non-processed foods, fill up on other quick, nutritious options such as nuts, seeds, natural nut butters, yogurts, sliced meats and eggs.

Get creative. Prepare foods that look and taste the same as your child's favourites, such as omega-3 French toast, whole-grain grilled cheese and sweet-potato French fries.

How healthy is your child? Take our quiz to find out.

Do you have a food-friendly tip you would like to share? If so, I would love to hear from you for future articles. Visit


Dr. Joey is the author of Winning the Food Fight (Wiley, 2003) and The Natural Makeover Diet (Wiley, 2006).


Share X

Teaching children about healthy eating