September 13, 2017
The kids are headed back to school. That means it’s time for back-to-school nutrition tips.
Good nutrition is important to see the day through productively and happily. Sharing meal-preparation duties and eating together are wonderful ways to spend quality time together and learn about healthy eating.
Breakfast Starts the Day Strong
Breakfast must be a priority for parents and children to start the day strong. Lead by example, and start everyone’s day with a balanced breakfast.
All it takes is an extra 15 minutes during rushed mornings to get a quick but nutritious breakfast in order with easy, kid-friendly foods, such as one-pan recipes, with cubed potatoes, tomatoes, veggies and eggs on top. What about dried fruit on top of cereal, a breakfast taco or green eggs and ham? Make breakfast jars with bacon, scrambled eggs and spinach. These meals will make devouring their first meal of the day fun.
Balancing Out Meals for Health
Eating a balanced meal is as easy as choosing a variety of foods with different colors to fill your plate and is an easy method of explanation for your child. A balanced diet includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and different protein sources.
Half of any balanced meal should consist of whole vegetables and fruits. That’s 2-3 cups of veggies and 1-2 cups of fruit — canned, frozen or fresh. One cup of fruit equals one glass of fruit juice minus the added sugar.
Don’t forget grains, including at least 3-4 ounces or the recommended 6-8 ounces. Whole grains make use of the complete kernel, including brown rice, whole cornmeal, bulgur wheat, whole wheat flour and oatmeal. Getting grains into your child’s diet may mean giving them half an English muffin at breakfast, two slices of bread for a tasty sandwich at lunch and a cup of pasta with dinner.
If your child’s plate has protein, such as chicken or a veggie burger, have them add something green or orange to it. Choose from vegetable subgroups that include starch, legumes, dark greens, and orange and red vegetables. Have your child consider color, such as orange sweet potatoes for their carotenoids and vitamin A. Raw broccoli isn’t tasty on its own, but add a dipping sauce or steam it to change the texture.
Children should help pack their lunches to include personal preferences, learn basic meal preparation and figure out how to create a balanced meal. When packing lunch, remember proteins, whole grains, colorful fruits and veggies, and dairy. Think of meal prep as filling in their tasty table of nutrition: To sneak in iron for healthy lungs and blood, cook meals in a cast iron pan. Fill plastic container dividers with pretzels, cheese, dried fruit slices and dipping sauces.
Getting in a balanced meal may also be done during snack times. Homemade trail mix with nuts and dark chocolate or sliced apples dipped in peanut butter will help tide your child over until dinner.
Reading Labels and Talking About Nutrition With Your Child
Fortunately, more schools are revising their menus to offer a wider variety of nutritional options. It’s important to ask your children what they’re eating at school, because they may not be eating enough, especially if they’re extra hungry after school. Snack time is a great time to include food varieties your child may not be getting at school, and it’s helpful to pack an extra snack, too.
Ask your child if they enjoyed their meal, as well as what they liked and didn’t like on their plate. Perhaps school menus don’t address their preferences or give them enough time to eat.
Consumers are becoming increasingly vocal about their dietary needs and concerns. As of 2013, 33 percent of individuals are avoiding GMOs foods, up from 15 percent in 2007. Easier-to-read clean labels are becoming a movement in the food industry, with shorter ingredients labels that are increasingly naturally sourced. It’s still important to look closely at the ingredients section of the label, analyzing the types of colorings, sweeteners and other flavorings.
A clean label doesn’t mean the processed food is organic or contains no artificial ingredients.
On the flip side, not all emulsifiers are bad: Lecithin is a natural plant-based emulsifier that may come from soy, sunflower or canola. Look for natural food colorings in your favorite brands, such as turmeric, paprika and annatto, which replaced unnatural food coloring in Kraft’s mac-and-cheese as of 2016.
In the rush of a busy day, eating a balanced meal is difficult for both parent and child. The best place to start is leading by example and eating a healthy breakfast with your child every morning, as possible.
Teach them to recognize the colors of their food and how to associate that with various fruits and vegetables and links to nutrition. Soon they’ll be describing their healthy meals in detail to you!