How to Teach Kids to Love Healthy Fats 

These days, children are surrounded by all kinds of foods packed with extra fat. From the bacon slices that land on their plates at breakfast to the aisles packed with colorful and enticing sweets and snacks at the grocery store, there’s a lot of unhealthy fat always within arm’s reach. And let’s not forget about the non-stop commercials and online advertisements for their favorite fast food restaurants. Add into this the mistaken message kids sometimes hear that all fats are “bad” for you, and it’s no wonder some of them may be confused about fats. Teaching kids how to love healthy fats is one way of showing them how to take good care of their bodies. 

When you’re talking to young children and teens, the best place to start is with the “why.” Explain the reasons their bodies need a certain amount of good-for-you fat types every day, and how it helps them stay healthy. According to Harvard Medical School’s rundown of good and bad fats, good fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated ones are big helpers when it comes to how our bodies work. They not only give us the energy we need to get through the day, but they are building blocks for our cells and our nervous system. They help us move our muscles better, help our blood clot if we get hurt, and keep down dangerous inflammation in our bodies. 

Shopping for good fats. Once kids know why having certain types of fat in their diet is healthy for them, show them where to find the good fats. A trip to the grocery store is the best place for this nutritional show-and-tell. Most of the good fats come from nuts, seeds, vegetables and fish. Here are some foods with good fats you can help them put in the cart: 

  • Olive oil 
  • Walnuts 
  • Avocadoes 
  • Almonds 
  • Salmon 
  • Canola oil 
  • Tofu 
  • Roasted soybeans 
  • Sunflower seeds

If your children are small, send them on a “good fats” mission to pick out the best avocados or their favorite kinds of nuts or seeds. Older kids and teens might like the cooking adventure of putting together a meal plan using a couple different types of healthy fats. This could include whole-grain bread dipped in flavored olive oil or tofu slices fried in a little canola oil and served with a spicy peanut dipping sauce. 

Outlining the bad fats. Now for the not-so-fun part: explaining to kids why some of the foods that might taste so good or look so fun need to be enjoyed sparingly because of the amount of unhealthy fats they contain. Trans fats, the biggest unhealthy culprits, already have been banned in the United States and many other countries. But saturated fats also can pose a health risk when consumed in large amounts, studies show. They can increase a person’s “bad” cholesterol level, the kind that can lead to blocked arteries and heart issues. These are the fats present in red or processed meats – think bacon and hamburgers – and in whole-milk dairy foods like cheese and lots of processed and pre-packaged snacks and foods. Many nutrition experts say saturated fat should be limited to less than 10% of your daily calories. You’ll want to teach children that while they can still enjoy all their favorite foods, there are some that should be eaten sparingly when compared to the other fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins they are putting on their plates: 

  • Butter 
  • Margarine 
  • Ice cream 
  • Sour cream 
  • Shortening 
  • Lard Fatty cuts of beef and pork 

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Photo credit: Getty Images

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