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Families - Healthy Eating

The following information is designed with you, your family's primary caregiver, in mind. The Indian Health Service (IHS) Head Start Program looks forward to being your family's partner in health. Together, we can improve the health of our children and families -- today and in the future.

A healthy, balanced diet is one of the building blocks for healthy children, adolescents and adults. That's why the IHS Head Start Program places it at the top of its list of health priorities. Healthy eating in childhood and adolescence is very important for proper growth and development, and it helps children learn healthy eating behaviors they can use for a lifetime. Proper diet can prevent serious health problems such as obesity, diabetes and dental cavities. Children and adolescents who eat healthy, balanced diets tend to feel better and do well in school, because their bodies and minds are properly nourished.

What exactly is a healthy diet for children? According to the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Agriculture, a healthy diet:

  • Includes a variety of foods, in which all the food groups are represented.
  • Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium) and added sugars.
  • Includes three to four servings of whole grains a day. One serving equals ½ slice of bread or ¼ cup of pasta or rice.
  • Includes five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. One serving equals ¼ cup cooked vegetables, ½ cup raw leafy greens, ½ of a small piece of fresh fruit or ½ cup of juice.
  • Includes five servings of dairy products a day. One serving equals ½ cup of milk, a one-inch-square cheese cube or ½ cup of yogurt. (Children under 2 years of age should only drink whole milk.)
  • Includes three servings a day of lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. One serving equals 1 ounce of meat, 1 egg or ½ cup cooked beans or peas.

Foods can also be classified in three groups:

Go foods - These healthy foods can be eaten almost anytime.
  • Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Whole-grain breads and tortillas
  • Whole-grain pasta and brown rice
  • Skim and 1% milk, fat-free and low-fat yogurt, and part-skim and reduced-fat cheese
  • Fish and shellfish (without added fat); lean beef and pork trimmed of fat; skinless, white-meat chicken and turkey; beans and lentils

Slow foods - These foods are not entirely off-limits, but they should only be eaten sometimes.

  • Vegetables cooked with added fat
  • Avocados
  • White breads, rice, pasta, taco shells and oven-baked fries
  • Ginger snaps and fig bars
  • 2% milk, processed cheese, low-fat ice cream
  • Whole eggs cooked without fat

Whoa foods - These foods are high in calories and fat, and low in nutritional value. They should only be eaten every once in a while.

  • Bacon, sausage, hot dogs, pizza, salami, bologna, fried chicken, fried fish
  • Whole milk, full-fat cheese, full-fat ice cream
  • Full-fat salad dressings, mayonnaise and gravy
  • Cookies, cakes, brownies and pies

As a primary caregiver for your family, you can set the example for healthy eating.

How do you begin to eat healthy? You need to:

  • Know how to identify healthy and not-so-healthy foods.
  • Know how to read food labels.
  • Use the food pyramid to plan balanced meals and snacks.
  • Serve correct portion sizes for age and activity level.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Make healthy foods delicious and easily available.
  • Make sweet treats and sodas less available and less desirable.

To ensure that children eat enough to meet their high energy needs, they need to eat frequently. Since children have smaller stomachs, serve them three meals a day along with two or three healthy snacks.

Try these tips for making sure your child eats enough of the right foods:

  • Make food look interesting and fun: use cookie cutters to cut sandwiches into fun shapes.
  • Use alfalfa sprouts or slices of cucumbers, carrots and zucchini as sandwich toppers.
  • Try adding deep yellow or orange vegetables to your meals if your child refuses green vegetables.
  • Substitute low-fat chocolate milk if your child won't drink plain milk.
  • When appropriate, allow your child to help with the food preparation. Children who are more involved with their meals are more likely to eat them.
  • Eat together as a family and keep children seated during the meal.
  • Allow your child enough time to eat. At least half an hour is necessary, but don't force him or her to clean their plate.

Healthy Eating Tips and Resources for Head Start Families


Head Start. Start Healthy. Grow Healthy.
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