Helping Kids Eat Better at School
Do you know what your child is eating at school today? Maybe you packed a lunchbox this morning, but what your son or daughter actually ends up eating could be something completely different.
More than five billion lunches are served every year as part of the National School Lunch Program. Every school serves different dishes, and it’s close to impossible to track all the foods your child eats every day. But you can send kids to school armed with nutritious options and encourage them to make healthy choices.
Here are nine tips to get you started.
- Assume the worst. Even though the Department of Agriculture (USDA) revised school lunch requirements to include smaller portion sizes, low-fat milk and more fruits and vegetables, items like pizza, tacos and potatoes are still available almost every day. Whatever snack you send with your child should be a healthy one, like an apple, pear or carrot sticks. This way, you help counteract the unhealthier choices they might be indulging in.
- Give them a variety. Getting a few fruits and vegetables on the plate, along with their favorite lunch items, is the way to go. Switch those out every so often, so your child doesn’t get tired of the same offerings.
- Ask what’s on the menu. Some schools upload the weekly lunch menu to their website, post it on bulletin boards or include it in parent newsletters. Find out which dishes they’re serving and then let your kids choose which days they want to buy their lunch. Just don’t be surprised if they choose pizza day.
- Choose two. If you can’t pack your child’s lunch every day, try to make a home-packed lunch at least two times a week, working with the school menu. That way, you know that at least 40 percent of their week involves parent-approved lunches.
- Get them involved. If you let your kids help make their own lunches, they’ll be more likely to eat it. Their participation makes them more invested in what they’ve packed and less likely to toss it or trade it with a friend.
- Encourage more water. Kids who drink water throughout the day have been shown to have better behavior and concentration. So skip the juice box, and pack a water bottle – or two.
- Get creative. Try to get away from the sandwich, apple, chips model – kids get bored with it easily. Make time to prepare a healthy wrap or kebabs, or have some fun with fruit for a healthy dessert. Sure, it’s more time consuming, but your kids (and their bodies) will thank you for it.
- Beware of the vending machine. As kids get older, their access to school vending machine items like salty snacks and candy increases. Let them know it’s not entirely off limits – that will only increase its appeal – but instead encourage moderation.
- Urge them to skip the sugar. Sweets make it hard for kids to focus, which can spell disaster for any afternoon learning session. If they just can’t do without it, urge your kids to save the sweet stuff until after school.
Changing things up, informing yourself and encouraging good habits at home will help make sure that kids are eating smarter when they’re away. And that’s much easier to swallow than the alternative.
Have you discovered ways to encourage your kids to eat healthfully? Please share tips or recipe ideas with other parents.