Did you know that long-term vision health is largely determined during infancy and childhood? This is just one more reason why it’s important to serve a variety of foods to our kids at meals and snacks. This includes serving colorful fruits and vegetables, protein-rich foods, healthy fats, and whole grains and starches throughout the day! As a dietitian and mom of three, I wanted to give you some specific examples of foods and nutrients that promote vision health. Keep reading for some meal and snack ideas, as well as other lifestyle tips that can help.
Vision Health Nutrients
- Vitamin A– An important nutrient for preserving eyesight. Vitamin A helps to reduce risk of night blindness and age-related macular degeneration
- Vitamin C- An important antioxidant in preserving eye health and reduces risk of developing cataracts.
- Vitamin E- This nutrient helps protect eyes against oxidative damage, protecting eye cells, and helping to maintain optimal vision health.
- Zinc- This nutrient is essential for the formation of visual pigments in the retina. Zinc deficiency can lead to night blindness and macular degeneration.
- Omega 3s- Essential fats that are key in healthy eye development. Omega 3s also help lubricate the eye and prevent dry eye complications.
|Meal and Snack Ideas||Provides the following Vision Health Nutrients|
|Carrots, bell peppers and hummus||Vitamin A, vitamin C, and Zinc|
|Salmon salad made with mashed avocado on whole grain toast||Vitamin E, Omega 3, and Zinc|
|Trail mix cookies with pumpkin seeds added in
Give this recipe a try that also uses canned pumpkin!
|Vitamin A, Vitamin E, and Zinc|
|Strawberry Hemp smoothie: with frozen strawberries, banana, hemp seeds, orange juice and Greek yogurt||Vitamin C, Omega 3, Zinc|
|Easy Roasted Squash Macaroni & Cheese||Vitamin A|
As parents, we want our kids to learn about food, nutrition and how it impacts the body. But the tricky thing is, kids don’t really have the abstract thinking skills needed to understand the science of nutrition and how it relates to our physiology and longevity. Kids don’t need to know this stuff! It’s important for parents to have a baseline knowledge of nutrition, but this doesn’t mean we have to then teach kids about it. Especially if your intention is to “get your child to eat it”. This can actually backfire and come off as pressure (which can then lead to… picky eating issues!).
I will explain what I mean with a couple example of food comments that contain underlying pressure:
“Don’t forget to eat your carrots, did you know they help your eyes see better?”
“Avocados have healthy fats that we need for our eyes to work well, make sure to give them a try!”
You may notice that these statements, although well-meaning, have an underlying motivation to get the child to eat a food with the reasoning to improve eye health. Unfortunately, this is just another form of food pressure, even if it is unintentional. The goal is to become more aware of these types of comments and instead focus on more interactive ways for kids to explore food without pressure.
In order to nurture intuitive eating skills in our children, it is important that we try our best to promote a food-neutral environment that is free from pressure or coaxing comments AND promote curiosity and engagement with food. Don’t worry – this is achievable!
There are ways to promote positive or engaging experiences with food, without the added pressure of trying to get your kids to eat it. I always recommend parents aim to focus on exploring the sensory characteristics of food, especially when offering unfamiliar foods on the plate. For example, you could comment on the texture of melted cheese by pointing out its stretchiness, or how crunchy a carrot sounds when you bite off one end. Making comments on the bright colors of fruits and vegetables could be one way to stir up your child’s curiosity. Ask your kiddo “why do you think this cauliflower is purple?!” or “isn’t it neat how spinach turns darker green after its cooked?”. These are just a few ideas of how to focus on the unique qualities of food that you offer at the table, in an observational, non-judgemental way! Also, simply saying “we eat a variety of foods for a variety of reasons!” is a simple way to express the importance of including a whole bunch of different foods.
Lifestyle tips for healthy eyes:
- Schedule yearly appointment with optometrist- If your child is seen by an eye doctor every year, any concerns that may arise will be more quickly discovered and treated in a timely manner.
- Give little eyes a chance to rest-
- Set up a screen time schedule: It is well documented that too much screen time without sufficient breaks from staring at the screen can make vision problems worse. In order to give your child’s eyes a break from this near-vision activity it is important to set up time limits on screen time. Another effective method is to schedule in breaks from watching TV every 20-30 minutes to give their little eyes a rest.
- Plan in time for outside activities: Scheduling in some outdoor activity is a great way to allow your children’s eye muscles a chance to relax from near-vision activities such as reading, drawing, or writing. Aim to encourage one hour of outdoor play each day when possible.
- Encourage good sleep hygiene: Just like the rest of your child’s growing body, their eyes require enough sleep to recharge and heal from the days activities. Check the CDCs recommendation for how much sleep you need based on age.
- Eye protection for indoor and outdoor activities- If your child is involved in regular sporting groups and activities, it is a good idea to look into type of eye protection available to prevent an eye injury. Encouraging your kiddo to wear UV protective sunglasses outside is always a good idea to help prevent sun damage to the eyes, especially on sunny days with extended activity outdoors.
From offering foods packed with vision health promoting nutrients, to ensuring a yearly check up with the eye doctor is scheduled, there is a long list of things you can do (and maybe are already doing!) to optimize your child’s eye health and development. My hope is that you are inspired to take away one or two tips that might help protect and nourish your child’s eyes today and into the future!