Children learn about what to eat from their parents and other family members. Food is vital for our survival but it also reflects our culture. Our experiences and interactions with other cultures opens up a bounty of new recipes, new foods and new ways to celebrate those important milestones of our life’s journey. That said, here are 10 basic nutrition tips we should be teaching our children that transcend culture. They are the tools for vibrant health and growing old disease-free, something to remind ourselves of often.

  1. Eat when you are hungry not because of the time of day

    If you find yourself eating by an external clock you likely are confusing your internal biological clock. Modern times have allowed us to ingest food for reasons other than hunger. We eat unaware of our body’s biorhythms. We eat when we are tired, upset, depressed, lonely, or afraid. Many of us snack constantly forcing the body to store unused fuel as fat for future energy needs.

    Children should be encouraged to eat when they are hungry. This is the most fundamental of the basic nutrition tips. Remind them that treats are special rewards that happen infrequently and will contain healthy choices like fruit, nuts, and seeds, or juice pops.
  2. Stop eating when you are 80% full

    We eat too much and too often. Overeating during celebrations and holiday meals is the norm. If only we limited overeating to those few special events, it would not be such a major contributor to the obesity and poor health epidemic in our country.

    Encourage children to eat sitting down, to chew their food slowly and thoroughly, and to stop eating at 80% capacity. Avoid the “I’m so stuffed I could burst” scenario! Remember, there is room in the fridge for leftovers.
  3. Limit animal protein to 20% or less of your plate/meals

    American’s are proteinaholics!! We do not need as much protein we believe we need. But what is key here is that animal protein and plant protein are equal in their nutrient content of protein, vitamins, and minerals. They differ primarily in the saturated fat content that is found in meat, not plants. Overconsumption of meat is directly associated with heart disease.

    Contrary to what most people do (and believe), this basic nutrition tip may seem counterintuitive. However, meat should not be the center of the meal; it is best as a side dish or as seasoning. Try southern collard greens with turkey bacon and don’t forget the splash of apple cider vinegar, delicious!

    Encourage children to eat a variety of vegetables. Use different spices, add grains, nuts, seeds, and meat as seasoning for various vegetable dishes. Learn how to roast them for quick and tasty recipes like brussels sprouts with bacon, or kale chips with grated parmesan cheese. Offer raw carrots, celery, or bell peppers with hummus as a healthy snack.
  4. Limit refined processed foods to 10% or less of your intake

    This is huge for Americans since the food industry has hijacked your health!! Refining and processing our foods for prolonged shelf life by adding chemicals and preservatives has resulted in the creation of foodstuff. They are nutrient-poor and high caloric edibles that because of added extra sugars addict your brain and your gut bacteria to craving evermore!

    High Fructose Corn (HFC) syrup is a major bully since it is added to most packaged or bottled foodstuff to improve taste. Yet, it is as addictive as cocaine is to your brain. Its hold on your body chemistry is markedly underestimated since we are just beginning to understand the importance of our gut microbiome to our overall health and longevity.

    Children should be made aware of the advertising done directly to them to eat foodstuff just because it’s available and tastes sweet. Marketing to children using their favorite cartoon or movie characters is unfair because children’s brains are not as able to discern fact from fiction. They are easy targets. It is why the supermarkets place this stuff at kid’s eye level on shelves, at the store entrance, and at the check-out areas.
  5. Drink 8oz water 30 min before your meals

    Your body is approximately 60% water! It is critical to every cell, chemical interaction, and pathway that functions to maintain our homeostasis or our body’s balance. Drinking 8oz of water a half hour before meals results in eating 100 calories less per meal. This basic nutrition tip is so simple, but it’s often ignored.

    Children should be encouraged to drink water a half hour before eating to help decrease their total calorie intake.
  6. Replace sugary drinks with lemon water

    This one basic nutrition tip alone results in weight loss because it decreases the huge number of calories consumed daily. One soda can contain as much as 2 cups of sugar! Your gut microbiome populates with bad bacteria under the influence of a constant sugar overload. Not to mention increased fat storage from the extra calories.

    Drinking lemon water improves digestion. The pectin and polyphenols in the lemon support weight loss and work as an appetite suppressant. The essential oils from the zest or lemon peel are antibacterial particularly against the common fungi Candida. The oils are also antiaging by promoting a reversal of collagen breakdown in the skin, thereby decreasing wrinkles.

    Children can become overstimulated and hyperactive from sugar in large doses. Encouraging lemon water instead of soda or fruit juices decreases their sugar calories, decreases the bad bacteria count in their gut, and decreases cravings for more sugar.
  7. Eat the bulk of your calories early in your day

    The European habit of eating the largest meal midday is in synchrony with how the human body handles a meal. The same 100 calories eaten early afternoon are dispatched by insulin more efficiently compared to the same exact calories eaten later at 7 pm. Our circadian rhythms slow our digestion in the evening as well as slows our insulin function making us store most of the meal as fat.  It is why Sumo wrestlers eat late. They want to store more body fat.

    Children should be encouraged to eat the bulk of their calories during the day during their most active time.  They need the energy to power their daytime play and learning activities. Late-night eating piles on the fat and interferes with their sleep healing and repair cycle.

    Although this is not a commonly known nutrition tip, it’s easy to do and quite effective.
  8. Have an 8-10 hr eating window and a 16-12 hr fasting window every day

    We store unused calories as fat as part of an ancient survival mechanism for the times when food was scarce. Modern times have created a surplus and constant availability of food. Think 24 hr stores and eateries!

    Fasting or voluntarily not eating is how the body allows for internal repair and healing, clearing out the old and nonfunctioning cells, and resting of major organs like your liver and pancreas. Studies show that maintaining a 10-hr time-restricted eating window, even without changing what you eat, results in significant weight loss.

    Children should usually have an earlier bedtime compared to adults. Stop eating after 7 pm and they are within a 10-hr window when they break their fasts in the morning before school.

    How about that for a basic nutrition tip that will serve you and your kids?
  9. Drink half of your weight in ounces of water daily

    Hydration is a simple health tip most forget about. By the time you feel thirst, you are profoundly dry! An easy rule is to drink half of your weight in water every day.  And yes it will increase your trips to the bathroom too, but that’s a sign of excellent functioning kidneys.

    Children should drink water throughout the day to maintain clear urine like the color of water. Getting those 8 ozs in a half-hour before each meal should be an excellent start. Infusing their water with lemon, strawberries, mint leaves, or cucumber makes it fun to look at and great tasting too.
  10. Cultivate a mindfulness eating experience

    We must eat to live. What we eat, when we eat, and how often we eat are the ingredients for any eating experience. It is also important to include awareness of the psychology of eating. One way the brain and gut relate to each other is by signaling our hunger or satiety. Eating too fast or distracted eating causes us to overeat because we miss the signal to stop.

    Making our meals visually appealing matters. Our appetite and digestion are influenced by the pictures our eyes send to our brains. Most chefs are well aware of the power of enticement from food artistically arranged on the plate. It’s called a “well-plated” meal.

    Have you ever found yourself salivating when your nose gets a whiff of cinnamon pastries hot out of the oven? That is your olfactory glands or your sense of smell participating in the first phase of digestion. Saliva contains amylase that begins the breakdown of starches as you chew your food.

    Eating slowly and noticing the different colors, textures, and aromas of your meals is part of the Cephalic phase of eating food. It is mindfulness eating or conscious eating.  Our brains need to register our pleasure when eating since it adds to the enjoyment of the meal. This gut-to-brain connection also signals when we are done eating and makes us feel mentally satisfied.

    Children are the best at creating a fun eating experience. (They could actually teach us a thing or two about this basic nutrition tip of mindful eating.) From food shaped like their favorite characters to playful colorings or faces on their plates, they are focused on the act of eating. They are enjoying their experience of eating. When they also eat nutrient-rich foods, they are maximizing the positive benefits to their growth and development.

Health-promoting nutrition really doesn’t have to be complicated.

These 10 basic nutrition tips give you easy-to-understand and useful advice for eating nutrient-rich foods. You have learned that your timing of when you eat is important or perhaps is even more important than what you eat. Maintaining adequate hydration is also most beneficial to the operation of the complex “chemistry lab” known as the human body.

It actually is as basic as eating when you are hungry, stopping when 80% full, drinking loads of water
and allowing downtime by fasting for healing, repair, and rest.

I’m Dr. Sy and I created my virtual Balance to Bloom group coaching program because it offers nutritional education, how-to guidance, motivation and most critically, accountability. Working in a group of like-minded people makes the process of changing your diet and lifestyle not just doable, but fun! Contact me today to schedule a conversation.