4 Tips for Healthy Hearts

By Leslie Stiles, MS, RD, CSP, LDN

February is heart health month, but the truth is that we should be thinking about heart health every month. Normally, most of us associate heart health with adults. However, as dietitians, we know that a lifetime of healthy eating starts early in childhood. Here are a few nutritious ways to celebrate heart health month that will hopefully last a lifetime.

  1. Focus on healthy fats. A diet high in healthy fats (i.e. “omega-3s” and “omega-6s”) has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Fish, nuts, avocados, and seeds are all excellent sources of healthy fats but there are other delicious ways to get these fats in your diet. The oils from these foods are a concentrated source of that good fat and they can be added to your family’s diet in a variety of ways. For example, try drizzling flaxseed, pumpkin seed or walnut oil on your grains, vegetables, chicken, fish, or salad for added flavor and nutrition. Flaxseed, pumpkin seed and walnut oil are high in omega-3s, which are very good for us but can easily go rancid so they should be purchased in small quantities and used quickly. Oils high in omega-3s also have a low smokepoint (meaning they easily breakdown when heated), so they should not be used for cooking. However, other healthy oils such as avocado, olive, canola, and grapeseed oil contain a greater amount of omega-6s in addition to omega-3s, making them great for cooking. Saturated fats are also part of a nutritious diet but should be consumed less than healthy fats. The most nutritious sources of saturated fats are from dairy and high quality meat.
  2. Eat more fruits and veggies. A diet rich in a variety of fruit and vegetables is always good for heart health and general nutrition. The key, for kids especially, is to make them taste good. There are so many ways to make vegetables flavorful and tasty. Simply roasting cauliflower or zucchini tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper is delightful. You can even experiment using some of the healthy oils discussed above or using spices, parmesan cheese or lemon juice. One thing I like to do is keep pesto on-hand and add it our broccoli or cauliflower for added flavor. The possibilities are endless! It’s important to not be too discouraged by kids who don’t want to eat certain vegetables. Instead, encourage them to keep trying new foods. They can be wary of a certain dish, so they might not love it the first time. But, don’t give up! It can take many times to get kids to like a new food. Keep making new foods and if you enjoy eating them yourself, your child is bound to as well!
  3. Soluble fiber.This kind of fiber helps reduce cholesterol. While most people aren’t considering their kids’ cholesterol levels, it’s important to set healthy habits early. Soluble fiber is in a lot of plant-based foods, such as beans. peas, barley and oats. Try adding beans to a pasta dish, roast them or add them to soup. Whole grains have more soluble fiber as well. Visit the bulk foods section and try new beans or grains. You can even take it home and Google it for a new recipe! It’s fun to try something new, and having your kids see you experiment with new foods will encourage them to do the same.
  4. Exercise as a family. There are so many simple ways to stay fit together as a family that don’t require a lot of time or money. Mostly it takes creativity and commitment. Try setting up an obstacle course for your little ones (even older kids can sometimes be convinced to join), have a dance party, do a simple workout from online (7-minute workout is a great one) or play ball inside or outside.

Introduce kids to new flavors and different foods right from the start. A lot of time parents don’t think their kids will like wholesome, healthy foods. But, the truth is these assumptions can shape kids’ taste preferences. Kids can learn to eat flavorful, healthy and even spicy food right from the start. Give your kids great food from the beginning, and you’ll be setting them up for future of appreciating good food and having a mature palette.

Leslie Stiles works as a clinical dietitian with F2S as well as with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. She loves cooking and thinking about food and especially working with kids and families.



Leslie Stiles works as a clinical dietitian with F2S as well as with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. She loves cooking and thinking about food and especially working with kids and families.