For families, meal times can often be a source of frustration when the kids don’t seem interested in what’s being served. As parents, the tough thing to remember is that part of our job is to teach our kids how to eat “right”. There is as much of a need to learn to eat your vegetables as there is in learning the benefits of cleaning your room. And, it is important to remind your kids that it is “ok” that every food they eat is not going to be their favorite.
In short, healthy eating often takes the discipline that we also use for such things as good grades in school, treating friends & family with respect, finishing your chores, etc… all of the things that might not be “fun” all the time and/or don’t always have an immediate reward, but we do them for a healthy balance in our life!
If you’re trying to start the New Year off in a healthy way for your family, here are some meal time tips to create balance but decrease meal time stress.
Breakfast: Breakfast can be a tough time for parents to get their children to eat anything. Studies support the benefits of breakfast including a healthy weight, decreased tardiness to school, higher attendance and test scores.
- Let your children control what they want for breakfast by offering a “breakfast bar” with healthy options to pick from such as peanut butter, dry cereals, milk, fruit, chopped nuts and leftovers which can be put quickly in the microwave.
- Start the day out right with lean protein such as Canadian bacon, eggs, low fat cheese and/or milk, peanut butter on toast or try a breakfast quesadilla or burrito to keep them full and focused!
- Add in whole grains for energy and fiber such as oatmeal, whole wheat waffles or pancakes, rolls or muffins to boost your child’s brain energy!
- Enjoy fruit and/or vegetables by having fresh, frozen or canned fruit in a parfait or by itself. Vegetables can be added into an omelet or breakfast quesadilla or as a beverage of vegetable juice.
- No time in the morning? Remember, we make our own time. But, no problem – prepare the night before by setting up for it! Or, have an on-the-go breakfast prepared such as trail mix, a banana and yogurt.
Lunch at School
- Look over the school’s monthly lunch menu and educate your child on balanced choices such as replacing fried meats with grilled meats, choose fruit or vegetables instead of french fries, and use a low-fat dairy option of white milk instead of high fat and/or whole milk varieties of chocolate milk.
- Encourage your child to balance their plate! Use MyPlate with at least 1 fruit or vegetable at every meal. A good rule of thumb is to make half your plate vegetables for at least 1 meal per day.
- Packing your child’s lunch is a great option too! To get more fruits and vegetables, load up a sandwich with vegetables.
- For optimal success with packing lunches, it can be optimal to prepare multiple lunches ahead of time. Also, involve your child in the lunch-packing process. This can be a great way to reinforce healthy nutrition topics!
After School Snack: Snacking can lead to weight gain if left unmonitored, but older kids require 1-2 snacks per day (depending on a growth spurt) and younger kids need at least 2 snacks a day.
- The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends keeping snacking consistent and planned. Timing of snacks should also be spaced evenly between meal times to prevent appetite and weight changes.
- Fruit and vegetables are not only full of essential nutrients, but are great lower calorie option for any snacks.
- A healthful snack will hit at least 2 food groups at every snack. Try a fruit and a yogurt or whole grain crackers and cheese or an apple with peanut butter. For increasing variety, have your children eat a different snack after school each day of the week.
- Keeping a “snack box” in the fridge which has a variety of options can provide your child choice but also contain their choices to those that are most healthful: cheese sticks, yogurt, whole grain cereal, pretzels, sliced apples, grapes, cut veggies, hummus snack packs… the options are limitless!
- Set a positive tone and habits at this meal by being a role model of healthy food habits for your children as they learn to mimic these habits when they get older.
- Don’t be afraid of “hungry”. From a couple hours of “hungry”, there is really nothing bad that will happen to anyone. Sometimes, we learn a lot from delaying gratification and also testing to see if we are really “hungry”. If you provide options at your meal which your child refuses, it is not always best to just give them something they will “like”. There needs to be a balance of foods we choose based on preference, but also the ability to eat foods that are provided. Remember, we need to learn how to eat healthy. It takes time and much positive reinforcement.
- Invest time into family meals. Studies have shown children who have dinner with their family are less likely to have negative issues with their weight and overall health. Have your children help prepare meals by chopping vegetables or simply setting the table. Keep recipes simple and cook in bulk for delicious leftovers!
- Turn off the television! Focus on family time, enjoying your food and talking instead of distracted eating by the television or other screens (which can lead to more calories consumed than intended!).
Dinner at Restaurants or Fast Food
- Be aware of portions. In particular, fast food can be loaded with calories when portion sizes are “mega”, “supersize” or “extra-large”. Restaurants can serve large portions as well, so request a “to go” bag and save half for another delicious meal! Or share a meal with someone!
- Beverages are easy targets for hidden calories, skip the sugar drinks such as soda or fruit punch. Choose nutrient rich milk or better yet water for your drinks. Try adding some fresh fruit for a little splash of flavor.
- Appetizers may seem like a great idea, but for a small child each bite can be filling and full of extra calories. By the time your child’s meal arrives, he/she may be too full for their meal.
If these tips seem like a great starting point, but you are looking for more specific information, please contact our office to schedule your individual session with one of our registered dietitians. Our staff is here to help you regarding specific recommendations to foster optimal health for your child and your overall family!
Wishing all families in the Lehigh Valley a very
Happy & Healthy 2018!