As childhood obesity continues to grow on an epidemic scale in the United States, experts are suggesting a number of simple ways parents can encourage healthy eating early in life. One of the simplest ways is integrating whole grains into a child's diet.
Whole grains provide significant health benefits and the USDA's MyPyramid recommends that all adults and children older than age two get half of their daily grains (at least three ounces) from whole-grain products. Researchers at the USDA have determined that whole grains are significantly under represented in the average American's diet. According to Jeanne Kandra, a registered dietitian who works with school- aged children in Mt. Joy, Pa., there's a huge back-to-basics interest in less refined foods.
"Whole-grain choices provide a full, rich, nutty, comfort-food flavor," Kandra said. "And, whole-grain products are typically nutrient-dense, with fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals."
Furthermore, medical research has found that integrating whole grains into a healthy diet can help reduce an individual's likelihood of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, stroke, diabetes and obesity.
Considering the numerous benefits of whole grains, it's important that parents add whole grain products to their children's diets and work to defeat the stereotype that whole-grain foods don't taste good.
"Parents can integrate whole grains into the family repertoire by modeling their own acceptance of these foods," Kandra said. "Students are going to start seeing more whole grains at school as well, since public schools are incorporating whole grains into their daily menus to comply with the new Federal Student Wellness Mandate addressing the childhood obesity epidemic in our country. Mainstream availability is going to gradually make more children accept whole-grain products."
Outside of school, parents can add whole grains to the dinner menu by adding whole-grain pasta like RONZONI HEALTHY HARVEST(R), which is available in eight varieties and has been featured as a highly recommended product in Family Circle and is a Cook's Illustrated favorite. After all, pasta is one of the foods kids most frequently eat at home. According to statistics from a custom research group; the NPD Group, kids eat 62 pounds of pasta each year, more than any other age group.
According to renowned light-cooking chef Kathleen Daelemans, author of New York Times best-selling cookbook Cooking Thin with Kathleen Daelemans, making a child's favorite pasta dish with whole-grain pasta is easy.
"What your children don't know won't hurt them," Daelemans said. "It's easy to substitute whole-grain pasta into your child's favorite pasta dish- whether it's spaghetti with meatballs or fresh pasta salad. Pastas like RONZONI HEALTHY HARVEST that have a taste and texture similar to regular pasta can be slipped into family meals without even a second look."
"When it comes to integrating whole grains, it's easy to start young," Daelemans added. "Pasta is a great, first finger-food for toddlers. Giving them whole-grain pastas now can be the beginning of a lifetime of healthy eating."
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