By Alyssa Wehrmeister, RD, CDEPediatric Endocrinology Division, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU Many parents worry about what their child is eating, and how exactly that affects heart health even at an early age.Eating is all about the choices you make for meals and snacks. It’s important for children to get enough calories to grow and develop, but it’s a fine line that can easily cross over into excess calories. Certain fats, like saturated and trans fats found in high fat meats, dairy, fried foods, and pre-packaged baked goods, are not as good for our hearts. Parents should give their children foods that contain healthy fats like poly or monounsaturated fats from plant based sources. Nut butter, nuts, seeds, oil (such as olive, canola, etc.) and avocados, all contain fats with nutritious value that kids need.Here are some questions I frequently hear from parents: 1. What can I do to help keep my child’s heart healthy?It’s important to make sure your child has a well-balanced plate in order for them to get all the nutrition they need. The USDA My Plate recommends a plate filled with ½ fruits and veggies, ¼ whole grains and ¼ lean proteins. In addition, pay attention to total calories and avoid extra sugars like those in soda and other sweet drinks. Sugary drinks contain empty calories with little additional nutrients. 2. How important is it for families to make healthy decisions together?The more parents act as positive role models and display healthy eating habits, the more kids are likely to try new foods and do the same. There shouldn’t be foods that are off limits to certain family members but not others. Everyone in the family should be committed to eating healthy and enjoying sweets in moderation. If food is kept in the house that is off limits for one family member or moderation of desserts and similar foods isn’t practiced by all, this behavior can lead to detrimental eating habits, such as binge eating or “sneak” eating. 3. I’m concerned my kids aren’t getting the nutrition they need, so I’m thinking about taking them to see a registered dietitian. What are some of the most common reasons you see kids?At Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s Healthy Lifestyles Center, we commonly work with children on issues such as preventing obesity, weight management, diabetes or high cholesterol. We help them cut back on overall fat by teaching them to eat more nutritious foods and generally work to help them improve their overall health and nutrition. 4. Valentine’s Day is coming up and I know my kids will be bringing home tons of chocolate and candy. Should I let them eat it, and if so, how much?I believe the key is moderation. Nothing should be off limits for kids, so it’s important to teach them they can have treats like candy, just in small amounts. Giving your child a fun size candy bar in their lunch box, along with snacks such as fruits and vegetables is fine, but kids don’t need full size candy bars. In fact, they don’t even need dessert every day. When it comes to chocolate, the research often shows mixed messages, but in general, darker chocolate has more antioxidants and less sugar. Try adding some dark chocolate chips to a fun trail mix. Then kids can satisfy their sweet tooth and have a nutritious snack. I also encourage parents to provide Valentine’s treats that aren’t candy related, like stickers, pencils or bubbles.Need a few simple and tasty ideas to get started? Check out Alyssa’s delicious heart healthy recipes for meals the whole family can enjoy!