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Oregon Family Magazine

Food as Medicine

04/01/2020 ● By Karen Ortiz, M.D., F.A.A.P. Eugene Pediatrics
One of the best ways to protect your family’s health is with the food you consume. While diet alone is not a replacement for medicine or regular medical care, eating a diet that is rich in nutrients boosts your immune system and can help prevent the onset of disease, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

“But I have a picky toddler,” you say. Or you have a teenager who swears that only processed carbs can sustain their life. What’s a parent to do? Here are a few ideas:

1.      Have fruits and veggies on hand. Make it easy for kids to choose healthy snacks by having readily available options in eyesight, rather than buried in a refrigerator drawer.

2.      Involve kids in the process. Let your children decide which items sound good to them from the produce section of the grocery store. In the kitchen, select age-appropriate tasks so kids can play a part in the meal preparation.

3.      Make food fun: Try making smoothies and freezing them in popsicle trays. Have a dipping party and let your children dip their veggies in different condiments, such as salad dressings, peanut butter and hummus. (No double dipping, please!)

4.      Disguise veggies in other foods. Try grating zucchini or carrots into stews, sauces, meatloaf and casseroles, or bake them into muffins or breads. (I never knew spaghetti sauce didn’t have spinach in it until I was older.)

5.     Enjoy regular family meals. Family schedules are often busy and hectic, but family meals are an opportunity for parents to talk with their kids about healthy choices and to try foods together. Added bonus: studies have found that teens still want their parents' advice and guidance, so use mealtime as a chance to connect.

6.      Avoid bargaining or bribing kids to eat nutritious foods. A better strategy is to give kids some control, but to also limit the kinds of foods available at home.

Getting your picky preschooler or fast food-loving teen to embrace healthy eating likely won’t happen overnight and overhauling your family’s diet all at once is rarely successful. However, finding small ways to introduce healthier habits can help build a foundation for a lifetime of healthier living.