Living Well: Back to School Nutrition
Setting your child up for success in the lunchroom
Jaclyn Brice, Health and Wellness Specialist Ministry Medical Group Crandon.
For parents of school-aged children a new school year means gathering school supplies and planning ahead for clothes and books. Department stores are buzzing with “back to school sales” and children are excited and nervous with anticipation of what the year ahead will bring. Parents do their best to help prepare them for important decisions made every day in the classroom but many overlook the obstacles children may face in the school lunchroom.
The younger the children are, the easier it is to regulate what they eat and when. Although many situations that come up in the school day such as birthday parties, snack time, candy or bakery fundraisers, etc… are beyond our control, teaching your child to make the better choices at home is the first step to them making the better choices when they are away. Research has shown that habits formed during childhood often carry into adulthood. Therefore, instilling the importance of healthy eating early in life may have a lasting effect on your child’s health.
There are several things you can do to make the transition to eating at school smoother for your child. The National School Lunch Program requires that the meals offered contain certain amounts of calories, fat, saturated fat, vitamins and minerals but that doesn’t guarantee your child will like them. Lunch menus can most often be found on the school website or sent home at the beginning of each month; reviewing them weekly is a great way to involve your child while still planning for the upcoming week. Go through the daily meal options and let your child circle what foods appeal to them, this is also a great opportunity to discuss which foods are the healthier choices and why. Studies show that involving children in the decision-making process makes them more likely to perform the desired activity.
Know the school’s policy on snacks
Whether starting at a new school or going back to one they have been at for years, it is a good idea to review the school policies on snacks. School policies can change from year to year with current legislation or even be classroom specific and knowing them ahead of time can save you some headaches and last minute decisions.
Below are some questions to ask in advance:
Is a snack provided by the school for children either in the morning or afternoon?
Are children allowed to snack in class?
Are vending machines accessible to students throughout the school day?
Can children drink beverages in the classroom other than water?
Can children have a water bottle accessible at all times?
Pack your own healthy foods
Healthy habits start at home and the most effective way to assure your child chooses the healthier options is through leading by example. If you don’t have the healthy foods in the house you’re not even giving them the chance to try them. Most often lunches are packed without the child’s input, resulting in them trading, throwing away, or simply not eating what they have been given. When children can assist in the decision making they feel a sense of ownership and are more likely to be proud of what they have accomplished. When packing your child’s lunch have things cut up into easy-to-eat pieces and packaged separately in plastic bags.
Healthy lunch and snack suggestions to get you started:
Single portion-sized cups of unsweetened apple sauce or fruit without added sugar.
Trail mix made with cereals, nuts, pretzels, dried fruit or raisins, and a few chocolate morsels.
Individual serving-sized packages of low fat yogurt or cottage cheese.
Baby carrots, celery sticks, or apple slices with dips made from yogurt or low fat sour cream.
Instead of chicken nuggets, slice a chicken breast into strips and pack it with a side of snap peas.
Pack your child’s favorite flavor of Greek yogurt (bonus if it’s homemade) along with a banana and a serving of granola. Your child can mix them all together or enjoy them separately.
Jelly has a lot of sugar in it so swap it out for banana or apple slices with peanut butter on whole grain bread. Add grapes and a low-fat cheese stick to round out the meal.
Most kids love pizza, and it’s really not that bad for them when prepared on a thin crust and topped with a moderate amount of tomato sauce, cheese and vegetables. Pair it with apple slices and celery sticks
For more information on Ministry Health Care services please visit ministryhealth.org.