Heart Health

Raising Heart Healthy Kids

Teaching your children to take care of their heart can never start too early. As a parent, taking care of your hearts is just as important. You’d be surprised at how little changes in your family’s diet and physical activity can have a big impact.

Click on the tabs above to learn what you can do to raise happy and heart healthy kids.

Heart Healthy Foods

Here is a list of some heart healthy foods to add to your shopping list:

Vegetables and Fruits

Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits. Buy vegetables and fruits that are fresh, frozen, canned, or dried.

  • Fresh vegetables like tomatoes, cabbage, and carrots
  • Leafy greens for salads, like Romaine lettuce, spinach, and kale
  • Canned vegetables that are low in sodium
  • Frozen vegetables without added butter or sauces, like broccoli or cauliflower
  • Fresh fruits such as apples, oranges, bananas, pears, and peaches
  • Canned or frozen fruit without added sugars


Look for fat-free or low-fat options.

  • Fat-free or low-fat milk
  • Fat-free or low-fat plain yogurt
  • Fat-free or low-fat cheese
  • Fat-free or low-fat cottage cheese
  • Soymilk with added calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D

Breads, Cereals, and Other Grains

For products with more than 1 ingredient, make sure whole wheat or another whole grain is listed first in the ingredient list. Look for products that say 100% whole grain.

  • Whole-grain bread, bagels, English muffins, and tortillas
  • Whole-grain hot or cold breakfast cereals with no added sugar, like oatmeal or shredded wheat
  • Whole grains, like brown or wild rice, quinoa, or oats
  • Whole-wheat or whole-grain pasta and couscous

Protein Foods

Choose a variety of foods with protein.

  • Seafood: fish and shellfish
  • Poultry: chicken or turkey breast without skin, lean ground chicken or turkey (at least 93% lean)
  • Pork: leg, shoulder, or tenderloin
  • Beef: round, sirloin, tenderloin, or lean ground beef (at least 93% lean)
  • Beans and peas, like kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, lima beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), split peas, and lentils
  • Eggs
  • Unsalted nuts and seeds
  • Nut butters, like almond or peanut butter
  • Tofu
Courtesy of Health.gov

Avoid These Foods for a Healthier Heart

Improving your diet lowers your risk for heart disease in many ways, including helping to lower high cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as preventing obesity and improving the function of your heart and blood vessels.

If you are watching your heart health, the following foods should not make it onto your meal plan very often. In fact, if you can cut them out of your diet, your heart will be healthier for it.

Processed meats

How much to eat: Preferably none, or at most 2 servings per week.

Serving size: 2–3 ounces.

The evidence. Processed meats are those preserved using salts, nitrites, or other preservatives. They include hot dogs, bacon, sausage, salami, and other deli meats, including deli ham, turkey, bologna, and chicken. Long-term observational studies have found that the worst types of meats for the heart are those that are processed.

Why it harms the heart. It’s likely that the high levels of salt and preservatives found in processed meats are part of the problem.

Highly refined and processed grains and carbohydrates

How much to eat: Preferably none, or at most 7 servings per week.

Serving size: 1 ounce.

The evidence. Many studies have linked whole grain intake — in place of starches (like potatoes) and refined carbohydrates (like white bread, white rice, and low-fiber breakfast cereals) — to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and possibly stroke. Whole grains are also linked to lower weight gain over time. This makes sense, considering that whole grains lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and may improve blood vessel function and reduce hunger.

Why it harms the heart. Refined or processed foods include white bread, white rice, low-fiber breakfast cereals, sweets and sugars, and other refined or processed carbohydrates. Why aren’t these foods healthy? First, high levels of processing remove many of the most healthful components in whole grains, such as dietary fiber, minerals, phytochemicals, and fatty acids. Second, high levels of processing destroy the food’s natural structure. For example, eating a food made of finely milled oats (e.g., Cheerios) or grains (e.g., typically finely milled whole-grain bread) produces much higher spikes in blood sugar than less-processed versions such as steel-cut oats or stone-ground bread. Third, processing often adds many ingredients that are less healthy, particularly trans fats, sodium, and sugars. Fourth, some research shows that fructose is metabolized differently than other sugars, in a way that increases the liver’s production of new fat. Fructose represents about half of the sugar in sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup or sucrose (found in cane sugar and beet sugar). That’s not to suggest that you never eat a slice of pie or white bread — just make them an occasional treat rather than a regular part of your diet.

Soft drinks and other sugary drinks

How much to eat: Preferably none, or at most seven 8-ounce servings per week (one 8-ounce serving per day).

The evidence. Americans are drinking more and more of their calories instead of — or in addition to — eating them. Most of the increase is from sugary drinks, especially sodas, sweetened fruit drinks, and sports drinks. A 12-ounce can of soda contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of table sugar. Diet sodas are sugar-free or low in calories, but have no nutrients.

Why it harms the heart. Sugary drinks have all the same ill effects on the heart as highly refined and processed carbohydrates. Research also shows that your body does not compute the calories you ingest in liquid form in the same way as it does the calories you take in from solid foods. So if you add a soda to your meal, you are likely to eat about the same amount of calories from the rest of your food as if you drank water instead. The soda calories are just “added on.” In addition to the other harms of highly refined and processed carbohydrates, sugary drinks also increase your chances of weight gain.

This article provided by Harvard Health Publishing

Tips for Heart-Healthy Kids

Get Moving

Your heart is a muscle. When you exercise, your heart works harder, and this makes it stronger.

Doctors say that to keep healthy, you should exercise for at least 60 minutes each day. This can be any activity that gets your body moving and uses energy such as playing sports, dancing, and even cleaning your room!

Parent Tip: Teach your toddler how to find their pulse on their wrist. Show them the difference in their pulse when they are resting and when they are physically active. You child will love to learn how their body works!

Eat Well

Sugar and good types of fat can be found in healthy foods such as grilled fish and chicken, nuts, vegetables, fruit and natural fruit juice. These foods give you energy and help to keep your body fit and working properly, as well as helping you grow. You should
try to eat such healthy foods often.

However, some foods contain too much salt, sugar, or unhealthy types of fat called saturated fats and trans-fats. These are often found in fast or processed foods such as chips, burgers, fried chicken, cakes, and sweetened drinks. You can have these  occasionally, but eating too much of this type of food can make you overweight and make it harder for your heart to work properly, over time.

Parent Tip: Let your child play with their food and make two groups – foods they should eat often and foods they should eat less often. You can also play while at the grocery store to teach them to shop and eat healthy!

Planning Heart-Healthy Meals

Start in Infancy:

  • Breastfeeding is ideal nutrition to support growth and development for about the first 4–6 months after birth.
  • Try to maintain breast-feeding for 12 months.
  • Introducing other sources of nutrients should begin at about 4–6 months of age.
  • Wait to introduce 100% juice until at least 6 months of age and limit to no more than 4–6 oz/day. Juice should only be fed from a cup.
  • Don’t overfeed infants and young children. Children shouldn’t be forced to finish meals if they aren’t hungry as they often change how much they need from meal to meal.
  • Introduce healthy foods and keep offering them if they’re initially refused. Don’t introduce foods with limited nutritional value just to provide calories.

The American Heart Association recommends this eating pattern for families:

  • Calories should be enough to support growth and development.
  • Eat only enough calories to maintain a healthy weight for your child’s height and build.
  • Eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
  • Keep total fat intake between 30% to 35% of calories for children 2 to 3 years of age and between 25% -35% of calories for children and adolescents 4 to 18 years of age, with most fats coming from sources like fish, nuts and vegetable oils.
  • Choose a variety of foods to get enough carbohydrates, protein and other nutrients.
  • Serve whole-grain/high-fiber breads and cereals rather than refined grain products.
  • Look for “whole grain” as the first ingredient on the food label and make at least half your grain servings whole grain.
  • Serve a variety of fruits and vegetables daily, while limiting juice intake.
  • Each meal should contain at least 1 fruit or vegetable.
  • Introduce and regularly serve fish as an entrée. Avoid fried fish when possible.
  • Serve fat-free and low-fat dairy foods. From ages 1–8, children need 2 cups of milk or its equivalent each day.

Heart Healthy Recipes

Make the most of mealtimes with these heart healthy recipes:

Recipes from WICstrongRecipes from EatRight.org

Online Resources

Visit these websites to learn more about heart health for you and your children.

American Heart AssociationCenters for Disease ControlWorld Heart FederationEatRight.org