The dog days of summer are here which means that back-to-school is just around the corner! Many families have probably already received school supply lists and may be too busy with back-to-school shopping for supplies and fall wardrobes to think about back-to-school meals and snacks. School lunch and after school snacks, however, are one area where wasteful and unhealthy practices can sneak up on the unprepared parent. As the schedule becomes a little more hectic, it is easy to make poor nutrition choices if we are not prepared. These tips will help you plan ahead to help make healthy eating for kids easy. With proper preparation, healthy eating habits for kids can be maintained even during this busy time of the year.
Parents play a key role in making healthy choices for their children and teaching them to make healthy choices for themselves. Establishing healthy eating habits in children is challenging however important so that they can get the right nutrients to grow and develop properly.
Healthy Eating For Kids-> How To Get Kids To Eat Healthy
All parents want to do the best for their children and provide a safe, encouraging and nourishing environment for them to grow, but it’s not always easy to get children on-board with healthy eating. Poor food choices are all around children from advertising to comparing lunch boxes with friends at school, but as illnesses such as childhood diabetes continue to rise it’s never been more important to teach children how to make healthy food choices.
Set a Healthy Eating Example
One of the simplest ways of teaching children how to eat healthily is to set a good example at home. Kids tend to mimic what they see and experience in their home environment, so feeding children a healthy breakfast, but skipping this important meal yourself only sends the message that it is OK for them to skip breakfast when they get a bit older. Eating a healthy breakfast every day helps to balance blood sugar, manage cravings and aid concentration, so lead by example and develop this healthy habit as a family.
Additionally, ensure you are eating healthy snacks at home and choosing wisely when out with your children. Reaching for the biscuit tin after a stressful day at the office but expecting your child to snack on fruit after school is unrealistic. Have a range of healthy snacks on hand that can be grabbed straight away such as fruit, oatcakes, individual tubs or bags of nuts and seeds, or cut up vegetables and keep in the fridge for nibbling or dipping in humus.
Educate Your Kids On What Healthy Food Is
Providing your kids with healthy food is great, but if you want them to continue eating healthily when they leave home they need to understand why it’s important to eat whole, nutritious, real food. Try to discuss food and nutrition with your child from an early age, so that they start to connect food with health. Talk to them about food groups.
You may want to do this by simply telling a young child what vitamins are in their strawberry smoothie and what these vitamins do. For older children, you may want to make learning about healthy eating and nutrition a project that either they do on their own or that you do together as a family. You could start a folder and collect information by doing online research, visiting local producers, or going to the library to find or create fun nutrition activities.
photo credit: ECOLunchboxes
Involve Your Children In Food Preparation
For some, the idea of healthy eating is boring when compared to visiting a fast food restaurant that hands out toys or other incentives with their meals. Healthy eating needs to be fun for kids and one of the best ways to make anything fun is to involve them in the process. Turn your meal preparation time into quality time with your child by looking for age appropriate ways to allow them to help and be part of creating something.
You may be able to get young children to wash vegetables or hand you condiments, while older children could assume the role of Sous Chef and assist with chopping, seasoning and cooking. Preparing food together is a great way to bond, talk about food and instill a sense of pride around what you eat together as a family.
The below tips for getting kids to eat healthy were provided by Jennie Lyon of Sweet Greens.
Prepping fruits and veggies ahead of time and planning out lunches and snacks for the week will save precious minutes in the morning and ensure that healthy options are available to keep your kids from reaching for junk food. Since you’ll already be in the kitchen for a few hours, consider baking healthy snacks to pack in lunches like homemade granola bars or whole grain muffins. Doing so will save you time and money—and you’ll know exactly what your kids are eating. To save time in the morning, pack lunches the night before.
Pack the Fridge With Easy, Healthy Eating Choices
Now that your yummy fruits and veggies are prepped ahead of time, it should be easy to make after-school fridge snack packs. Pack reusable stainless steel containers like the ones above from ECOlunchbox with a day’s worth of apples and peanut butter or carrots and ranch dressing. Make sure these are all on a low shelf in the fridge so that your student can find them easily. If your kids are old enough, they can help with snack prep over the weekend and get to have a say in some of the week’s healthy snacks, which will help them choose the healthy option over packaged junk later.
Start the Morning Off Right
Kids who don’t eat a healthy breakfast with enough protein and fat will crave sugar and junk later. Luckily it’s easy to add these things to breakfasts. If you’re serving oatmeal breakfast bowls, add a few chopped walnuts or fruits. Add a dollop of whipped cream with fruit and almonds on whole grain waffles to add fat, protein, vitamins and yumminess!
Have Regular Family Meals
Eating together isn’t just a chance to model good behavior but finding time to eat as a family has a host of benefits that go far beyond nutrition. Kids who eat with their family do better in school and are less likely to smoke, drink, do drugs or get into fights. A new study from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health shows that even if the meal is served in front of the television, kids eat healthier than those who don’t dine with loved ones. When a family dines together, they eat better.
Offer A Variety Of Foods
Offering a variety of foods helps kids get the nutrients they need from every food group. Patience works better than pressure. Although adults usually decide what kids eat, we all know that kids eat what is available. Therefore, surrounding them with healthier options leaves them no choice but to eat better food.
Avoid Praising A Clean Plate
Let kids stop eating when they feel they have had enough. Give your kids a chance to recognize when they feel full. They’ll feel independent and are less likely to become overweight.
Don’t Use Food As A Reward
Try not to use foods as rewards as this may start using food to cope with stress or other emotions. There are other ways of rewarding kids for good behavior and managing misbehavior. Praising the efforts and not the outcome may also mean recognizing your child when he has worked hard.
Make food FUN!
Healthy eating for kids is really fairly simple. First, they need to understand which foods are healthy and that making healthy food choices will help them grow and have strong bodies and immune systems. Second, they will naturally eat what they see you eat. Third, kids will eat what they have on hand. If they look in the pantry and see Twinkies or healthy granola bars, they are likely to pick the high sugar option. So having healthier options available and easy to grab is a large part of how to get kids to eat healthy. I hope these tips help develop healthy eating habits for kids. It seems to do wonders for my own children.
Whatever route you take, the end goal is to ensure your children have healthy food available at all times and that they make the connection between healthy eating and their own health and well being both now and in adulthood. What are your favorite healthy meals and snacks kids will eat? What do you like to prepare ahead of time for your kids? We love new ideas!