How to Help Your Child Eat Healthy - A Pediatrician's Advice
By Michelle Bailey, M.D.
These are general recommendations for healthy eating and lifestyle habits I recommended to all patients in the B.C. era (Before Coronavirus). They are still appropriate today, with a few other recommendations listed below. I advise to have at least one hour of physical activity daily. Limit screen time to less than two hours per day. You must eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. No sugary drinks, including juice and soda. Highly limit fast food, fried food, and junk food. Limit simple carbohydrates, add more complex carbohydrates (brown rice, wheat bread and pastas) and lean proteins (chicken, fish, ground turkey).
What to do if your child refuses to eat their vegetables? Here’s Dr. Bailey’s rule: if your child refuses to eat the vegetable on their dinner plate, no muss, no fuss and no cuss - just take away all screen time for the next 24 hours. No TV, no video games, no phone, no computer (aside from school assignments). They will think their life is over, and will re-consider eating their six bites of vegetables the next night, I guarantee.
Here are ways to add/hide vegetables into other foods: mix 50/50 cauliflower rice with brown rice, add a can of pureed pumpkin or puree a zucchini into spaghetti sauce and soups, make healthy smoothies containing plain Greek yogurt, berries, spinach, flax and/or chia seeds, honey, and 2% or soy milk.
Before COVID-19 and quarantine, I gave the above advice to patients and parents. I write this now, understanding that times have momentarily changed for all of us. Recent studies have shown that children are eating one extra meal per day and getting four to five additional hours of screen time (video games, tv, smart phones) every day, over and beyond what they were doing one year ago. I saw one teenager a few months ago whose phone was logging an average of 13 hours of screen time daily!!
Additional bits of advice in the age of COVID and limited social interaction: increase daily physical activity to two to three hours per day. Take family walks. Read every day, find a good age appropriate book series for each child. The library is open and they even make it easier with curbside pickup and drop off. Get in the kitchen: make use of your child’s five hours a day on their phone and let them research new healthy recipes. I suggest each child over age 7 is responsible for prepping and making dinner once a week, under parent supervision, especially when using a knife or cooking on the stovetop. The rule is you must serve a green or orange vegetable, and everyone must eat what is served. Kids get control one night a week and take an active role in family dinners. They’re more likely to eat what is served to them if they require everyone to eat their served food too. And lastly, cut yourself some slack. We don’t have to have Pinterest-worthy dinners and activities every day. Do your best to provide ideas for good physical activity and nutritious meals, and try to limit couch potato time.
Get to know Michelle Bailey, M.D.
I’m a board-certified pediatrician, passionate about ensuring the well-being of patients ranging from newborn through late teens.
I attended medical school at the University of Oklahoma (Boomer!), and completed my pediatric residency in Houston.
Since the completion of residency, I’ve worked in outpatient clinics and enjoy not only caring for my young patients, but becoming a part of every family by building long-lasting, trusting relationships. While I treat common and not-so-common childhood infections and diseases, I especially have a passion for asthma and allergies, nutrition, and ADHD along with other learning disorders.
I’m married and we have a rescue dog named Jack. When not at work, I enjoy attending cultural events and traveling. To make an appointment with Dr. Bailey, click here or call 682-303-1000.