Childhood Nutrition

Can’t get your children to stomach anything leafy or green?  In Tennessee, more than 20 percent of 10- to 17-year-olds are obese. McKel Hill, a registered dietician and nutrition coach, joined us on a recent episode of Community Healthy Matters to discuss how to change this statistic and make healthy food fun for your kids. View her entire interview here.

Tennessee has the 14th highest adult obesity rate in the nation. By teaching your child healthy eating habits, you can help them live healthier lives now and into adulthood.

The key to a well-balanced diet is a focus on whole foods such as fruits, vegetable, nuts, seeds and legumes. Whenever possible, prepare ahead of time and always have healthy food on hand. For example, McKel described the ideal child’s lunch as half an avocado with lime and sea salt, a protein such as chicken or beans, veggies like carrot sticks or celery, carbohydrates such as oatmeal or a sweet potato, and a beverage of water or tea.

Certain foods are pivotal for childhood development. Calcium and phosphorus benefit developing teeth, omega-3 fatty acids found in tuna and salmon are vital for brain development, and the probiotics in yogurt and fermented vegetables support intestinal health and the immune system.

Having trouble getting your kid to eat healthy foods? Thirteen to 22 percent of children are reported to be picky eaters. Try to avoid refined sugars, processed food, soda and candy, substituting healthier options. A few alternatives Mckel suggests are butternut squash instead of macaroni and cheese and a dark chocolate avocado mousse rather than ice cream.

The easiest way to sneak veggies into your child’s diet? Smoothies! A simple, delicious treat for breakfast, lunch or snack, smoothies can contain any fruit or vegetable of your choosing. Just avoid any unnecessary sugars or sweeteners!

Remember: healthy eating is a lifestyle, not a diet, so it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. She suggests eating nutrient-dense foods 80 percent of the time, then allowing 20 percent for splurges like chocolate, pizza or candy.

Creating a positive relationship with food now will establish good eating behaviors throughout your child’s life. For more information on healthy eating, visit

Tune in to hear from experts on how to keep your child healthy. Representatives from UnitedHealthcare and TennCare explain TennCare Kids, a free child health services program, on the latest episode of Community Health Matters. Pediatrician Dr. Deanna Bell & UnitedHealthcare’s Dr. Joel Bradley share how to optimize your child’s health checkups. And dietician Mckel Hill stopped by to discuss how to help kids make healthy food choices.