Getting kids to eat healthier meals is something most parents struggle with at some point. This is true for me when it comes to school lunches. I feel that lunch time at school poses its own set of challenges. There is the distraction from friends, but the number one thing that freaks me out is that I am not there to make sure that my children are eating what I packed. I can picture it now…my six year old sitting down at the lunch table doing a biz deal (those superior skills inherited from her mother…I’m so proud) which is focused around what she can get in return for the whole grain almond butter and natural jelly sandwich that she discovered when opening her lunch box.
What’s a parent to do? I just read the book, “Lunch Lessons” Changing the Way We Feed Our Children by Chef Ann Cooper. Cooper, a nationally recognized pioneer in developing healthy lunch programs, has worked with school districts across the country for the past decade to ensure that kids have access to fresh, nutritious food. Every parent, myself in those ranks, knows the frustration of cleaning out their kid’s backpack at the end of the day and finding a half-eaten lunch.
I walked away with numerous tips that I found helpful and think are worth sharing.
* Get kids involved with the process. The more power we give children, and the more options we offer them, the better they’ll eat. Present them with a few healthy lunch items, and then let them help prepare the food and pack their own lunchbox. During her career, Cooper has learned that kids love dips and suggests the following; low-fat yogurt mixed with honey and packed with strawberries and chunks of cantaloupe.
* Instead of chips, include some homemade popcorn. If regular sandwiches go uneaten, try wraps instead.
* Be a good role model. The real problem with getting kids to eat healthier meals often lies with parents, not kids. If we as adults are living on a diet of soda and chips, how can we realistically expect our children to want to eat whole grains and fresh fruits?
* Take your kids shopping. One of the best ways to help children learn about healthy food is to take them with you to the grocery store. Make sure you’re not in a hurry and spend time in the aisles that contain minimally processed foods—the produce department, meat and fish counter, the dairy aisle, and the bulk foods section, if your store has one. If your child expresses an interest in a certain fruit or vegetable, let them try it. Don’t just assume they won’t like it.
* Be flexible. There’s nothing wrong with having a cookie occasionally if it’s balanced with a diet of healthy foods. A special treat every now and then won’t do any damage. It can actually help make eating a more enjoyable experience for your child.
* Make mealtimes special. First and foremost, sit down and enjoy your food. Take time to savor flavors. Make a ritual out of eating and give everyone a special task. You can even let kids have one night a week when they plan and help make dinner.
* Let kids help in the kitchen. Even a two-year-old can snap fresh green beans or tear lettuce into pieces for salad. Don’t automatically assume that a task will be too difficult. Know your child’s limits and help her succeed by providing support in a safe environment. Kids love to eat food they helped to make, and will be more likely to try new foods, including fruits and vegetables.
* Make sure your kids eat breakfast. After 10 to 12 hours of no food, it’s important to jump start their metabolisms and recharge their engines before sending them out into the world. Kids who don’t eat breakfast are more likely to be tired and unable to concentrate in their morning classes.
* Encourage your kids to move their bodies. A good diet is only part of the equation. Regular exercise helps support a strong immune system and the ability to concentrate. Walking to school is a great way to give kids an added advantage before settling down to learn for the day. Help your kids find physical activities that they enjoy and encourage them to get outside and play as often as possible.
Overall I took away a good deal from this book and will add this to my continuously growing recommendations of no-nonsense healthy living recommendations. Thanks again Chef Cooper for assisting me in redirecting my daughter’s business negotiation skills!