Sending your kids off to school with a healthy school lunch is helpful only if the food ends up in their tummy — or gets traded for something else that isn’t loaded with sugar, fat or salt. But even in the crazy kids world of the school cafeteria, children can make smart, healthy food choices. Parents and caregivers play a key role in helping children learn the fundamentals of healthy living — eating well and staying active — whatever pressures they face outside home.
Most important, help your kids foster healthy eating habits at home. Try to help them see that healthful eating as a natural and fun part of every day.
Another way to encourage healthy eating is to sample a variety of fruits and vegetables from the grocery store or local farmers market. Chances are that even “expensive” produce is still cheaper than most processed foods on supermarket and convenience store shelves.
Teach your kids how to be savvy consumers. Enlist them as food detectives at the grocery store. Set some standards for healthy foods and show them how to read Nutrition Facts labels, which list the nutrition content of pre-packaged foods. Then let them choose a few items that make the grade.
If kids are eating well outside of school, you may wonder if their diet at school really matters. The answer is a resounding “yes.” Research has shown that appropriate levels of fat, sugar, vitamins and minerals like iron contribute to development, learning and general behavior.
Packing a healthy school lunch can be a family activity. Involving kids in the decision process can help them learn how to make good choices and also feel more enthusiastic about their lunch options. Most are more likely to eat meals they help prepare themselves, so have them choose a few healthier items, such as pretzel sticks, popcorn, fresh whole fruit or yogurt.
And if your children buy lunch at school, make sure to talk to them about how to choose healthier food options, and why it’s so important.
Parents need to teach children not only what to eat, but how much. People tend to blame restaurants’ super-sized meals for Americans’ expanding waistlines, but portion distortion has become a part of our everyday lives. In a 2006 study, researchers randomly gave participants a small or large bowl and a small or large serving spoon, and everyone served themselves ice cream. Those given a bigger bowl and spoon ate the most — a whopping 57% more than people with small ones.
The lesson is to pay attention to serving size. Use smaller dishes and containers for treats, and bigger ones for fruits and veggies.
Want more information? Ask your Middlesex Hospital Primary Care provider for advice on how you can instill healthy eating habits at home. Your kids are much more likely to do as you do, not as you say, so learning to eat smart will help your kids make healthier choices too.