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All About Kids: Healthy Eating for School Success
August 28, 2014 -
The school year is underway and many routines have been established. Though we shop for the best organic foods and frequent farmers markets, establishing healthy eating routines requires practice and patience. The payoff can be great as kids have energy to succeed in school, enjoy their afternoon activities and maybe gain a little independence along the way!
Eating breakfast is widely thought to be important for the beginning of a successful day both for children and adults. Children usually wake up hungry and it is important for them to eat a balanced breakfast including protein, fruit and/or vegetable and some grains. There are so many choices, but one example would be oatmeal with blueberries. The oatmeal can be made with milk (dairy) or a non-dairy milk for protein, or with water and add an egg, turkey bacon or the protein of your choice. A glass of juice is a great way to balance the meal. The important thing is to take a few minutes to sit down and eat something healthy, have a little conversation and begin the day in a positive way.
The next meal children eat is a snack at school, usually around 10 a.m. They are usually pretty hungry by this time and are happy with a quick, filling snack that they can grab and eat quickly and then run off to play. The most successful snack containers are small and easy to open. Children like many kinds of snacks but if you are trying to stay on the healthy side, away from processed food, fruits and vegetables are your best bet. String cheese is a favorite as are rice cakes, dry cereal and trail mix. Children can select their own snacks and pack them along with their lunch.
There are amazing new lunchboxes and containers for lunches, but it is important that:
The child can open all of the containers themselves
You include all needed utensils
You include a napkin
You include water, juice (or other non-sugar drink)
Lunchtime is usually between 11:30-12:30 and there is still more school day after lunch. For this reason, a balanced lunch is really important. Include an item from each food group and include enough to sustain your child for the next three hours. Anything that makes the food appealing, fun and enjoyable to eat will help assure that your child actually eats the lunch instead of throwing it away.
You would be so surprised by how many children try to just throw food items away. As kindergarten teachers, we watch the children carefully and can usually catch them before the food hits the trash can, but older children are more independent and can more easily give food away or simply throw it away.
What will keep them interested? Favorite foods in small, manageable amounts, appealing food colors (think red strawberries, blueberries, guacamole and chips, sugar snap peas, edamame, to name a few). Another important factor is eatability. In other words, is the portion the right size, can it easily be eaten? No child wants to take the time to peel a hard-boiled egg even if they love to eat it. The shells are a mess and it just takes too long. They will eat it happily if it is peeled and it is a great source of protein.
This theory also works for seaweed packages that are adult-sized (portion them using smaller containers), oranges, large apples and avocados. Most young children take two or three bites of an apple and throw it in the trash, but they will eat a container of cut up fruit salad.
Packing a note is a little connection that children really like. Young children like to try to read the notes (drawings help) and, of course, older children read them independently.
Alternatively, many schools sell a school lunch, which may be purchased.
TRANSITION TO HOME
Children come home tired and hungry so instead of giving in to sugar cravings, have some healthy snacks on hand. Some great after-school snacks are yogurt, veggies with dip, rice cakes with peanut butter (or alternative spread) and, of course, fruit. The snack should be refreshing, but not too filling; after all, dinner is only a short time away.
When the children come home, have them wash their hands, arms and face, then take a snack break before beginning their homework. The simple act of washing the day off can help children recalibrate and feel ready for the afternoon and evening. Be sure to schedule in some free playtime so they have a chance to unwind after their busy, scheduled day.
Easy lunch prep is mandatory and here is my formula: spend an hour on the weekend making healthy, portioned items such as fruit salad (any cut up fruit) and veggie bags (small carrots, snap peas, grape tomatoes and celery) for the week.
Then, as dinner is being cleaned up, the children can make their own lunches, keeping items in the refrigerator and then just putting them in the lunch box in the morning. The important thing is to have everything in containers ready to go.
Mornings are hurried and adding the lunch preparation to that routine just adds stress. Keep the morning as calm as possible.
Food preparation is enjoyable for children so get them involved from a young age! Here are some of my favorite sites that offer not only lunch boxes, but also ideas and recipes: