We know Birmingham is known for good food. But what about healthy food? You CAN eat healthy in Birmingham with a little help and planning. We asked Virginia Anderson, clinical nutritionist at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham, about how to make eating healthy fun and affordable for your whole family.
Virginia works primarily with children in the pulmonary department at Children’s of Alabama, but good nutrition is part of every pediatric nutritionist’s day. Below are her insider tips!
How to Shop Healthy and Budget-friendly at the Grocery Store
- Prepare before you go. Involve your kids in making the grocery list. It can be a good educational opportunity to help your kids understand healthy meal choices and meal prep. It also helps you avoid impulse buys, which can drive that bill up.
- Shop the sales. Get the sale paper at your local store for savings. Finding the sale items is also a great way to incorporate new foods that you may not have thought about otherwise. Who doesn’t love a good deal?!
- Check out frozen and canned fruit and veggie options. You don’t have to buy fresh fruit and vegetables for your family if it’s out of your budget. Frozen and canned options are great, too. Just look for the lower sodium canned veggies and rinse them before serving. Buy fruit packaged in juice or water instead of syrup to avoid extra sugar.
- Expose kids to healthy choices. One way to avoid having your child ask you to buy cookies and soda is to avoid those aisles entirely. Instead, try to expose them only to the things you want them to eat. You’re in charge!
- Make it a game. Choosemyplate.gov has a fun grocery store bingo game that helps kids find healthy foods in the store. The goal is for your child to notice and focus on the healthier options. There’s also a food critic game that encourages kids to try new foods by rating them on appearance, smell, texture and taste.
- Head to one of Birmingham’s local farmers’ markets for a fun, family-friendly activity. You’ll know the foods are in season and grown locally, and your child can learn something about where their food comes from from the people that grew it.
Modeling Healthy Habits
According to Virginia, parents set the stage for their child’s eating.
“You want to offer a variety, provide structure and set your child up for success with their meals. If you’re willing to try new foods, they will be.”
In the age of smartphones and tablets, it’s also best to limit mealtime distractions. Keep those devices out of sight.
Virginia said it’s also important to not speak negatively of foods. Instead of saying, “You didn’t like that food,” ask your child what they thought about it. Keep the language positive so they’ll be more willing to try new foods in the future.
Getting a Child to Try New Foods
Speaking of trying new foods, parents—especially those of picky toddlers—know that getting a child to eat something new can quickly devolve into a battle. Virginia said to allow your child to have some say in their meals, but provide structure for them.
“As the parent, you decide the what, when and where of meals. The child can then decide if they want to eat it or how much.”
To encourage your child to try something new, cut the food into fun shapes. Watermelon in the shape of Mickey Mouse is more exciting than plain old watermelon.
Finally, celebrate your child’s successes when they try new things. Again, positive vibes only around food!
Involving Your Child in Mealtime
Below are some strategies you can employ to involve your children during mealtime.
- For children as young as two, ask your child to help set the table or clean up when mealtime is over (just don’t let them handle sharp objects!).
- Enlist them as your cooking assistant if they’re not old enough to manage cooking on their own yet.
- When they’re ready, your child can help measure and add ingredients, and mix (around three or four years of age).
These are general recommendations that are excellent for most children; however, if your child has a diagnosis with nutritional implications, consult with your nutritionist for specific recommendations. For more information about nutrition for your school age child, head over to Children’s of Alabama’s website.