In a place where frozen pizza is considered a vegetable, it’s tough for kids to get a nutritious meal in the school cafeteria. But sending your childrem back to school doesn’t have to mean sending them back to bad eating habits.
Given the choice, kids will pick Fruit Roll-Ups over a cup of fresh fruit. Since you can’t rely on the school to provide your child with a healthy lunch, what can you do to ensure he or she gets a balanced meal?
Set a good example
“As a parent, you are the best example for your child,” said Melita Marcial-Schuster, D.O., assistant professor and family medicine physician at Des Moines University. “If they see you eating junk, they will eat junk.”
Set the tone by making healthy choices for yourself. Your good eating habits will rub off on the whole family.
Examine the menu
A diet of lunchroom staples like chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese is detrimental to your child’s health. Discuss the lunch menu each week to help them make wise decisions at school and learn to be responsible for their own health.
Pack a lunch
When the cafeteria menu doesn’t suffice, create your own meal plan. Involve your children when planning their lunches, and explain the importance of the foods you want them to eat. This will stimulate them to make healthy choices.
“Presentation matters,” stresses Marcial-Schuster. “Part of eating is how you pack it. Lunchables are very popular with kids. You can create homemade Lunchables by placing healthy foods into a divided container.”
Choosing the right mix of foods can be difficult when developing your own menu. Marcial-Schuster offers these tips to creating a nutritious meal each day:
• Avoid processed foods. Foods that contain high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated oils are not quality foods to eat. Pack whole foods made by you and fresh fruits and veggies.
• Provide an energy boost. Foods high in carbohydrates and sugar make kids groggy and sleepy, which can affect their academic performance. Good proteins like peanut butter, cheese and chicken will give your children the energy they need to last the day.
• Defeat pickiness. Catering to picky eaters will limit your lunch options. Introduce your children to a variety of foods to expand their palate. You’ll be surprised at what they like.
With a little planning and creativity, you can help your child eat nutritiously all day. Send them back to school with the right supplies to make healthier food choices.