Beginnings are a great time to review your child’s eating habits. A new school year offers opportunity for making some healthy changes that will impact your child’s performance, health, growth and even his or her mood.
For best results, involve your child and keep it positive by explaining how healthy habits can lead to success, whether in the classroom, on the playing field, or in the music room. Focus on the following areas and your child will be fueled for a year of success!
For optimal school performance, breakfast is a “must-have.” Whether your child eats at home, at school, or munches on a baggie of berries and peanut butter/whole grain toast at the bus stop, fueling up is a necessity to recharge brain cells to full capacity. While researchers can explain the scientific importance of breaking the fast, teachers can tell you firsthand about the impact breakfast-skipping makes on late-morning behavior and school performance. Kids need a balance of nutrients, so include sources of complex carbohydrates in the form of whole grains, a protein source (dairy and fortified soy beverages count too), and nutrient-boosting fruits or vegetables as part of the breakfast plan. A recent study showed that kids miss out on nutrients for the day when breakfast goes missing.
Parents may be surprised to learn that in many cases, school lunch provides a wider array of nutrient-rich choices than a packed lunch. This is especially true when packed lunches contain highly processed chips, packaged cookies and crackers, white bread sandwiches and juice boxes. (see below for tips on packing a nutrient-rich lunch).
Ever since USDA revised the school meal regulations (which took effect in 2011), students have seen more fresh, healthy choices at school. School meals now include more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and less saturated fat, sodium and sugar.
Planning For Snack Attacks
Afterschool is when the appetite really kicks in for school kids. Children often head off the bus and straight into the kitchen. Take advantage of this hunger surge by offering plenty of healthy snack choices. Keep foods such as fresh fruit, cut-up veggies, string cheese, hummus, bean dips, yogurt, nut butters, and whole grain breads and crackers within easy reach. Add fresh citrus slices, cucumber or watermelon to a pitcher of water to encourage kids to drink water over sweetened beverages.
Family meals are a must-have for healthy, well-adjusted kids. When families make the time to sit down and eat together at home, everyone tends to eat better. Kids and teens who eat with their family a few times each week tend to do better in school and even get into less trouble. Plan ahead for those times when family activities leave you scrambling to get dinner on the table. Prepare healthy soups, stews, lasagna and enchiladas in double batches and freeze, or serve sandwiches on whole grain bread with simple side dishes such as fruit, salads and yogurt.
Finally, remember that parents are the ultimate role models for healthy habits. Make nutritious, whole food choices part of your daily routine and your children will become better eaters as well.
Packing a Nutrient-Rich Lunch
Colorful, Varied, Fun – these are the ingredients for a lunch that will please your child. Think beyond the nut butter sandwich to include a variety of kid-friendly foods that will end up in your child’s tummy instead of the garbage. The tips below will get you started.
Kids like compartments
Bento boxes or other divided containers are popular with kids and a perfect way to insure variety. Make sure to include an ice pack or frozen food item. Include at least 4 food groups in every lunch:
- Colorful vegetables such as snap peas, carrots, celery, grape tomatoes, pepper strips, cucumber or zucchini slices, broccoli or cauliflower florets, spinach leaves
- Easy-to-eat fruits like pineapple chunks, apple slices, grapes, kiwi slices, avocado chunks, cut-up melon and berries, clementines
- Protein such as tuna pouches, natural deli meats, natural jerky, hard boiled eggs, string cheese, yogurt, nuts, seeds, hummus, edamame, or sunflower seed butter
- Whole grains including the whole grain versions of crackers, flatbread, mini-bagels, pasta/quinoa salad or whole corn polenta squares served with salsa.
Kids like to have a say
Be sure to involve your child in lunch prep duties. When kids are in on the planning, they are much more likely to eat and enjoy lunch. This is also a great opportunity to teach your child about nutrition, budgeting and food safety.
Thinking ahead to cooler days
As the weather cools, there are many hot dishes that can be included in a thermos such as soups, stews and whole grain pasta dishes. Kids look forward to having warm foods as a part of their lunch and it’s also a great way to use up leftover favorites.