Happy National Nutrition Month! Celebrated through March, this holiday is centered around empowering families with healthy eating resources to nurture your child’s growth.
Read on to discover what National Nutrition Month is and the role of nutrition in child development. Plus, discover food assistance programs and family nutrition tools that give you the information and support you need to access healthy food and resources.
What is National Nutrition Month?
National Nutrition Month is an annual awareness campaign run by the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and this holiday is all about teaching families to make healthy choices together. It’s also connected to Registered Dietician Nutritionist Day on March 10, which raises awareness for the professional nutrition field.
The theme for National Nutrition Month 2021 is “Personalize Your Plate.” What a great reminder to develop healthy habits in ways that fits your family’s unique needs!
Why Child and Family Nutrition is Crucial
So, what are the benefits of strong family nutrition? Especially in a child’s early years, nutrition plays a role in brain development. According to Zero to Three, nutritional deficiencies during pregnancy can affect a child’s brain size, and iron deficiency in early childhood is linked to learning difficulties.
Additionally, nutrition can affect emotional well-being. According to Dr. Eva Selhub with Harvard Health Publishing, 95% of our serotonin—a hormone that helps keep mood and mental health stable—is produced in the gut. Another study found that low levels of key nutrients, like iron and Vitamin D, are linked to a higher risk of developing depression or anxiety.
Without a firm definition of family nutrition, however, it can be tough to work towards establishing healthy habits, even when you know the benefits. Good nutritional habits may look different for each family, but these guidelines from the CDC can help. A healthy eating pattern may include the following:
- A variety of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Low-fat dairy products
- A variety of protein foods
Family Resources for Food Assistance Programs
Low-income families face serious challenges (through no fault of their own) to buying the foods their children need to thrive. Healthy foods are often more expensive than their less nutritional counterparts, and it can be tough to balance nutritional needs with a family budget.
However, families can find help through local or federal food assistance programs. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers many food assistance programs to offer food security and nutritious options for families. Visit the USDA Nutrition Assistance website to learn more about these programs and apply.
School districts across the country also offer free meals for families in need through the National School Lunch Program. Contact your local school district for more information, including how to apply.
The United Way 211 can also connect you with local food assistance programs, as well as COVID-19 support and other essential needs. To check if the United Way operates in your area, visit their home page and type in your zip code, city, or state in the corresponding boxes.
Additionally, Feeding America offers support for finding local food banks and applying for federal assistance programs. To get started, click here and enter your zip code in the required area.
7 Family Nutrition Resources for Teaching Kids Healthy Eating Habits
Run by the founders of National Nutrition Month, Eat Right offers plenty of resources on family nutrition—from how to eat safely while expecting to planning healthy meals as a family. Plus, they have tips for emergency situations like food safety during power outages or natural disasters, which can always be useful to learn as a family.
Despite the name, Especially for Moms can be a helpful tool for any caregiver. This website is full of family recipes, videos, and quick tips on how to make healthy eating enjoyable.
This resource, run by the American Academy of Pediatrics, provides information for caregivers on making healthy choices. While most of the information is focused specifically on nutrition, Healthy Children also includes tips on fitness, emotional wellness, and other topics for developing well-rounded healthy habits.
The mission of Cooking Matters (run by No Kid Hungry) is to fight childhood hunger by teaching families how to prepare healthy, low-budget meals. There is also a Find Food Resources section which has information on food assistance programs for families in need.
Need a quick resource to teach kids about the importance of healthy eating? The Motivational Minute video series by Nationwide Children’s Hospital shares quick and helpful tips for children on topics like eating a healthy breakfast and hydrating while they exercise.
6. My Plate
The USDA runs My Plate, a website that empowers families to make informed dietary choices. Their website is split into three main areas:
- Tools, including nutrition quizzes and food group plans
- Resources, such as healthy eating videos
- Recipes by professional chefs designed for families
Nourish Interactive offers plenty of free activities and tools to help teach children about nutrition. Check out their health tips, computer games, and printables to make nutrition fun for your family.
- The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. About National Nutrition Month. Eat Right. https://www.eatright.org/food/resources/national-nutrition-month/about-national-nutrition-month
- Drewnowski, A., and Eichelsdoerfer, P. Can Low-Income Americans Afford a Healthy Diet? Nutrition Today, November 2010, 44(6), pp. 246-249.
- Selhub. E. Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food. Harvard Health Publishing. November 2015. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
- Sathyanarayana Rao, T.S., Asha, M.R., Ramesh, B.N., and Jagannatha Rao, K.S. Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, April-June 2008, 50(2), pp. 77-82.