Back-to-School Lunch Nutrition Tips
When it comes to feeding your children, it can be stressful—especially once school starts. For starters, there’s the time it takes to prep and cook. Add to that the worry about whether they will even like what you prepare. Their preferred foods may be an easy, quick option, but they often aren’t the healthiest choices. Because children are still growing, they need nutritious foods to support the development of their bones, muscles and brains. What’s a parent to do?
A few things to consider for success:
Know your time-saving tips. Use the three Ps of meal planning: Plan, Purchase and Prepare. To save time and money, plan several meals before you head out to shop. When you go to purchase ingredients, be smart at the grocery store and use a list to stay on track. If possible, avoid going when you are stressed or hungry. Finally, set some time aside on the weekends or in the evenings to prepare ingredients: do some cutting, cooking and assembling for the week. Try cooking your grains and proteins for the week all at once or precutting vegetables and fruits so they are ready for lunches and snacks. Still strapped for time? Use frozen or pre-cut vegetables and fruits.
Get the kids involved. Children who help with meal prep tend to be better eaters and more willing to try new foods, so get them in the kitchen! If your child is 6 or older, give them more power to pick out healthy items at the store for their lunch and then to help pack their lunch bag. Try using the terms “growing foods” for foods that are nutrient rich and “fun foods” for those that taste good but are eaten less often or for special occasions. A challenge: can you and your kids find growing foods that are also fun?
Develop healthy eaters. To help children grow an open, healthy attitude to food, follow dietitian and therapist Ellyn Satter’s wisdom about the division of responsibility. In her approach, adults are responsible for choosing and preparing foods for their children, providing regular meals and snacks, and letting children grow into the bodies that are right for them. The children’s job is to eat the amount that is right for them, learn to behave well at mealtimes and grow predictably in the way that is right for them. When done consistently, children tend to be less picky and more willing to try new things. Read more stories about the division of responsibility in feeding to start a new mealtime strategy.
Use the healthy plate guideline. For a healthy plate, include at least three food groups in every meal to ensure balance. Children tend to need snacks between meals to keep themselves going, so make these snacks more like mini meals with veggies and fruits, proteins and fiber-rich grains. Avoid empty-calorie options like chips or cookies. For more meal ideas, use our helpful lunchtime planner!