Chuck, my kids would rather die than eat veggies that I put in their bag lunches. What’s your secret power for getting your kids to eat well? – Jeff C. in Portland, Ore.
In Part 1, I discussed how bad the nutrition in public school lunches has become. I also addressed the limited nature in which the federal government can, even in its best programs, enforce healthier eating.
In Part 2, I discussed how Oregon is one of several states leading the way in enhancing school lunches and successfully teaching students about nutrition and gardening by incorporating them in the teaching curriculum.
In Part 3, I compared the health patterns of kids who bring their lunches from home with those of kids who buy them at school.
This week, in the series’ last installment, I will give parents the best tips from experts about how they can help motivate their kids to eat healthy foods and make better nutritional choices. I don’t know whether any are trade secrets, per se, but they are definitely keys to improving your kids’ eating habits.
As I’ve pointed out before – and as most of us already know – there’s no greater influence in a child’s life than his or her parents or guardians. For that reason, parents need to do due diligence in establishing healthy habits in their children by eating good foods themselves. Bar none, there is no greater power to improve your child’s health and fitness patterns than your modeling, mentoring and motivating. Where you lead, your child is soon to follow.
Healthy bag lunches are simply an extension of what is practiced and consumed in healthy homes. In other words, eating better at school starts by training or retraining everyone’s palate at home, especially to minimize cravings for high-fat, high-salt and high-sugar treats and beverages.
Dr. David Katz – an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management and the prevention of chronic disease and the director and founder of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center – explained: “As any 5-year-old or picky eater can attest, familiarity is a powerful driver of dietary preference. But taste buds are malleable and can be taught to appreciate new and subtler flavors. When you swap processed, high-fat, sodium-packed and oversweetened food for healthier fare, it can take one to two weeks before your taste buds acclimate. Don’t expect to love new flavors right away (and certainly don’t expect your kids to). Just keep serving the new dishes, and soon neither you nor your palate will recall what all the fuss was about.”
Outside of being a mom of three, Elizabeth Strickland Sauls is a registered dietitian specializing in integrative nutrition therapy for children with autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and related disorders. She recently gave six great tips in the Glen Rose Reporter for helping parents to improve the nutritional value of their kids’ school lunches and the odds that they will eat them:
Be strategic and plan ahead. Don’t just leave packing a lunch to leftovers. Be strategic and intentional. Over the weekend, plan the meals and buy the groceries you need to stuff your kids’ upcoming weekday lunches with enticing, healthy eatables.
Have your kids help pack their lunch the night before. School mornings can be crazy, so pack your kids’ lunches the night before, and solicit your children’s help in doing so. If they’re involved in preparing them, they will be likelier to eat them. And you even can use that time together to overtly and covertly train them in nutrition.
Try variety. Few people – let alone kids – want the same meal every day. Mix it up by offering alternatives for whole-grain sandwich breads, such as pita pockets and tortilla wraps. Or give them pasta and ham salad, cheese and whole-wheat crackers, a fruit or vegetable salad with hard-boiled eggs, or dinner leftovers in place of their typical sandwiches.
Include protein. Make sure every lunch has a great source of protein in it, such as chicken, deli meats, tuna, peanut butter, almond butter, Greek yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, nuts and peanuts. Protein promotes energy and supports brain function.
Leave out the canned soda. With 10 teaspoons of sugar in every 12-ounce can of soda on average, you’re only setting your kid up for a sugar high and crash during school. Low-fat milk, organic 100-percent fruit or vegetable juice, or bottled water is the way to go. Make it enticing to drink by placing it in an appealing and fun sipping container.
Quick healthy foods and snacks. When good foods are easier to eat, it will increase the odds they are eaten. Baby carrots and sliced apples are offered in small one-serving bags. Sugar-free health food bars – such as granola or Larabar – trail mix, nuts, string cheese, fresh or dried fruit, celery sticks and peanut butter, sweet potato chips, beef or turkey jerky, and popcorn are all great options, too.
Sauls hit the nail on the head in giving the exact reason our kids need a nutritious midday meal: “Lunch should provide protein, vitamins, minerals and energy, which helps to keep a child’s brain fueled and alert for the classroom. What you pack for your child’s lunch is going to affect their learning and behavior.”
There are myriad great parental, professional and nutritional blogs with some excellent ideas about enhancing your children’s nutrition and even equipping them to respond to anti-healthy-eating bullies at school. Check out FirstBites.org, RedRoundOrGreen.com and HandPickedNation.com.