Nutrition is an important part of a child’s development. Eating and maintaining a balanced diet helps improve cognitive ability and strengthen immunity. Poor nutrition leads to obesity and increases the risk of developing severe health conditions in the future. During the school year, children often have consistent access to healthy routine meals. During school breaks, providing children with proper nutrition gets more difficult as parents may be working and some children no longer have access to their meals for the day, free school breakfast and lunch. Kids spend more time at home, where parents’ behavior—leaving food on the counter, eating meals together or separate, watching TV during dinner—has a lot of influence. Healthy eating plays an important role in a child’s development and overall well-being. Habits created at an early age last for years, and poor eating habits or nutrition increase the risk for disease in adulthood
Poor nutrition and obesity disproportionately affect Latine youth. 1 in 5 Latine children in Texas have obesity. Latine children are nearly 30% more likely to be overweight or obese than other children in the state.
Why is this? In Texas, ⅓ of Latine children live in a food-insecure household, more than children overall in the state. This problem is made worse by the lack of resources in Latine neighborhoods and Texas overall. Fast food stores outnumber supermarkets in most Latine neighborhoods. Texas has fewer supermarkets per person than any other state. In Harris County, 1 in 5 residents do not have consistent access to healthy affordable food. This is a huge barrier to buying nutritional foods and promoting healthy eating habits in children.
What can parents do? Parents’ behavior around food severely impacts the risk of obesity. By empowering families, especially mothers, to create a healthy eating environment at home, parents can make strides in lowering childhood obesity rates through different strategies. Here are some tips to help children eat healthier at home.
- Discourage eating meals while watching TV. This behavior is associated with children drinking more sugary drinks and eating more than necessary.
- Plan times for the family to eat together. Establishing a mealtime routine can encourage eating full, healthy meals and limit eating snacks throughout the day.
- Leave healthy food out in the open. Keeping foods easily seen and available encourages kids to reach for a healthy option, like fruit, to snack on during the day. Buying less junk food or keeping it hidden in the home encourages healthy eating habits.
- Include children in cooking and meal preparation. Involving kids in the kitchen encourages them to try new foods and makes them more comfortable with the food they are about to eat.
- Encourage the whole family to participate. Kids need to see their parents make healthy choices when eating. Get the whole family involved to create a positive feeling around food and make healthy eating a team effort.
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