February is Heart Month, and we should all think about this in the context of creating a heart-healthy food environment for our children. We are laying the foundation for our children to lead healthy lives, and that includes care of their vascular health.

Heart health for the kids, too!

Image Family Making Pizza Image Family Making Pizza Image Family Making Pizza

February is Heart Month, and we should all think about this in the context of creating a heart-healthy food environment for our children. We are laying the foundation for our children to lead healthy lives, and that includes care of their vascular health.

A recent study from Brown University looked at the diet quality of over 38,000 children. There is good news and not-so-good news from their research of the dietary data.

Today U.S. children are eating slightly more:

  • Whole-grains –this includes brown rice, oats, whole-wheat and multigrain breads and cereals, whole-grain pastas
  • Whole fruits rather than fruit juices
  • Fish
  • Plant proteins which include dried beans and peas, quinoa, nuts and nut butters

The downside is that U.S. children are still not eating enough vegetables, and are taking in far too much salt and sodium. The sodium comes from commercially-made pizza, salty snack foods, fast food items like burgers and fries, and cold cuts and other processed meats like hotdogs.

Moving the entire family toward a healthier food environment can be a step at a time. Making more meals from scratch does take some extra time, but even having a few homemade meals will make a sodium difference. And when you do cook, be sure to cook additional so that you can get two meals from the one dish. For example, pork tenderloin tonight and pork BBQ tomorrow from the leftovers. Roast chicken tonight and chicken-wild rice-vegetable soup tomorrow.

Is Friday night pizza night? That might be a good time to make a homemade pizza using whole wheat pizza crust. Have the kids add vegetable toppings that they have helped to wash, dice and slice like bell peppers, onions, broccoli, mushrooms, tomatoes, and zucchini.

Think of creative ways to include vegetables daily. It is OK if your children don’t like some of them – continue to include them in your menus. For example, you can try oven-roasted cauliflower tossed with olive oil and fresh thyme or raw cauliflower salad with a flavorful balsamic vinegar dressing or shredded cauliflower on pizza – three ways to introduce a different vegetable.

The more meals that you make at home and with whole ingredients, the less sugar and salt you will be feeding your family. And it is family fun and a learning activity when you include the children with menu planning, food shopping, meal preparation and of course, clean-up!

Recipes to try:

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About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.