With children returning to school in the next few weeks, it may be hard to keep them from grabbing the burgers, pizza, fries and other snacks in the school cafeteria, even if you pack a nutritious lunch.
Plus, after a long day of school, most kids would rather flop down to play video games than run around playing football or basketball, so it's more difficult to get them moving.
It can be challenging for parents to help their children develop life-long healthy eating and fitness habits, but parents can control how and what their children do during the school day by first fostering healthy habits at home.
Parents who are more creative often are successful at getting their children to eat well. Here are a few ways for parents to become more creative about making kids' diets more nutritious:
- Offer Vegetables at Different Times of the Day or Evening - Dice tomatoes and put them in scrambled eggs.
- Serve Salads with Most Meals - Use dark, leafy lettuce such as romaine with a variety of colorful, crisp vegetables such as celery, zucchini, carrots and bell peppers.
- Keep Super Foods Around - Never run out of carrots, apples, broccoli, almonds or yogurt.
- Watch It - Monitor the amounts of fat, sugar and salt that children consume.
- Include Your Children in the Decision-Making Process - When kids feel involved, they're more likely to try new things, including healthy food. Never give up. Keep trying new foods and repeat past foods to expose your kids to a variety of nutrients.
Pack It Up
Packing a good, healthy lunch doesn't have to be complicated. Here are a few tips for packing healthy school lunches:
- Reduce the Carbs - Think of ways to get protein into the lunch instead of just carbohydrates. Add a cheese stick, a small cup of tuna salad with pickles, or sliced meat and veggies in a pita pocket. Provide a cup of natural peanut butter for dipping apple slices.
- Prepare on Sundays - Fill small plastic containers with vanilla yogurt and frozen blueberries or strawberries and freeze them. On school mornings, place them in your child's lunchbox. At lunchtime, it's a cool, healthy treat. Try cups of green beans, peas or carrots, which can also be cooked, packed and frozen on Sundays. Also, pack treats ahead of time.
- Be Creative - On hot days, make a smoothie in the morning and put it in a Thermos. Include sliced cheese or turkey and almonds as a part of lunch. This sort of creative lunch keeps your child interested in the healthy food.
- Provide Fresh, Raw Veggies - Many children will happily eat baby carrots, broccoli heads and red pepper strips with a dash of salt or a healthy dip (yogurt).
- Shop for Your Child's Lunches at a Natural Food Store - This way, you'll know your child's diet will be lower in preservatives, nitrates, additives or unnecessary sugars and salts. And choose organic whenever possible. With the reported positive impact on the immune system, the usually higher cost is an investment in your child's future health.
Keep Them Moving
Children should spend no more than one to two sedentary hours staring at a screen each day. That time includes watching television, playing video games or staring at a computer screen. Unfortunately, most children spend 4-6 hours a day on these activities. Instead, try these tips:
- Have a Plan - Be prepared to offer alternative activities to TV or video games. You might consider family game night, walking the dog, family bike rides or exploring a nearby park.
- Be Active with Your Kids - What kids want more than anything else is time with their parents. To give them that, don't just send them out to play - go play with them. Take walks, ride bikes, go swimming or just play tag or hide-and-seek outside.
- Remove the Tube - Don't position your furniture so the TV is the main focus of the room. Remove televisions from bedrooms.
- Plan TV watching in Advance - Go through the TV listings and pick the shows you want to watch. Turn the TV on for those shows and turn it off afterward.
- Practice What You Preach - Your kids won't accept being restricted to two hours of TV, video games or the computer if you are vegging out for hours at a time. The best way to influence your kids' behavior is through example.
Hopefully, these tips will help you and your kids prepare for the school year while staying healthy and fit.