The school year has finally started, and many parents are facing the renewed challenge of deciding what to pack in their children’s lunches and how to provide healthy snacks at home to keep their kids functioning optimally and feeling healthy.
Your fear of your child’s eating habits isn’t wasted. Providing the right foods for your kids is exceptionally important, especially when they’re very young. Kids who get the right balance of nutrients and calories have more energy and sharper thinking skills than their malnourished peers. The right foods can also help even out kids’ moods, which can fluctuate throughout the day and impact their ability to focus in class.
Now that we know why healthy eating is so important for kids, let’s focus on some practical ways to promote healthy eating habits, provide healthy choices, and encourage your kids to make positive food choices throughout the day. We’ll also include some helpful resources you can use to keep your kids healthy and on track.
Encourage Healthy Eating From the Start
The first (and biggest) battle to consistently getting your kids to eat healthy foods is to teach them to want healthy foods. As much as that may seem like an impossible task, there are some tried and true methods to getting your child interested in eating their vegetables. Have a talk with your kids about nutrition and why it’s so important that they get the right nutrients every day. Make sure you frame it in terms they’ll care about. Teach them that more energy translates to more play time with their friends and longer outings at the ballpark. To help them feel empowered in their food choices, give them some guidance and then allow them to choose the snacks they’d like to have on hand around the house and in their lunches. You can use this guide to get started.
Make mealtime about family, not food
By making mealtime about family and not food, you’ll have time to catch up with your kids and their lives. You’ll have an opportunity to coach and give advice while simultaneously monitoring what your kids eat (and don’t eat). Most importantly, kids learn by example, so by eating with your kids, you’ll instill good behavior by leading by example.
Cut back on sugar
Since kids are sponges, it’s important that you practice what you preach. If you tell your kids that it’s important to eat healthy foods and then you snack on chocolate after work, they’ll get the message that healthy eating is optional. Cutting back on sugar is especially important since the American Heart Association recommends children get no more than 3 teaspoons (12 grams) a day. Create a weekly rule of when sugary foods can be enjoyed. Maybe every Saturday night you watch a movie as a family and everyone gets a ice cream. Or perhaps Tuesdays are special because kids get juice popsicle after school. By making sugar something kids look forward to, they’ll be more likely to savor it and not overdo it. To cut back throughout the week, consider swapping out sugary drinks (like soda or juice) for water. Also, be sure to remove sugary treats (cookies, candy, juice) from the house (or keep it on a high shelf out of sight from the kids.) For more information on your kids sugar intake, check out our article Sugar Bomb: The Truth About the Toxins You’re Feeding Your Kids.
Introduce healthier choices
Packing healthy lunches can be a chore because you want your kids to love their lunch, and if they don’t like the healthy options you pack, they may skip out altogether. You also don’t want to waste your money on items that will just get tossed in the trash or traded for other snacks. One of the best ways to avoid these issues is to let your kids pack their own lunches. Take your kids shopping with you and let them choose the veggies they want to eat at lunch time. You can pack the meals together at night as a family bonding activity. You may consider creating a healthy reward system where if your kids eat their veggie every day, they can earn points and get a reward of their choosing, Just make sure the reward isn’t food based. Use this guide to start packing healthy lunches for your kids.
Resources to keep your kids on track
This is a big change, so rather than do it alone, use these resources to keep you (and your kids) on track.
Kurbo Health: This is an app where parents can find coaches for children to work with to help set personalized goals, provide encouragement and keep children on track for long-term success.
Habit Tracker: This is an app that tracks your habits and holds you accountable to your health goals. Use it to track whether or not you ate dinner as a family, allowed your kids to pack their own lunches, and provided healthy after-school snacks every day.
8 Glasses a Day: Pretty self explanatory, this app keeps track of your water intake. Use it to set a good example for your kids or to track their intake on weekends and during the summer.
Mealsnap: Calorie counting doesn’t get much easier than it does with Mealsnap. Just snap a picture of your meal and the app will give you an estimated calorie count.
Shopwell: This genius app makes it simple to shop healthy. You can link your shoppers card to the app or use the in app guide to learn the healthiest options for you and your family.
5 A Day: This app makes it easy to provide your kids with five servings of fruits and veggies each day. Use the app to find easy recipes for lunches and at-home dinners.
Restaurant Nutrition: Use this app to track your meals from more than 100 restaurants and more than 15,000 meals.
Want to learn more about keeping your kids healthy and happy at school and at home? Give us a call anytime. Our medical practice is committed to taking care of all aspects of your and your kids’ lives, so we can help you with nutrition planning as well as preventative and diagnostic medicine. You can Peninsula Doctor at (650) 800-3365.