My kids are back in school; school supplies, clothes, and lunch boxes at the ready. It is always a discussion whether to take their lunch or to buy the lunch provided. For some reason, my kids have always liked taking their lunch. It is a time that we can influence what they are eating or at least provide an opportunity. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, kids consume almost 50 percent of their calories at school every day.
What our kids are eating day to day should be important to them and to us. Approximately 17 percent (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years are obese. Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled. The worst has been that we are now seeing high blood pressure and diabetes at a younger age. The good news is that the obesity trend is improving slightly in recent years.
Managing what your kids eat can be a constant battle, but with a little help and encouragement, you can help guide them on a path to healthful eating.
- Healthy breakfast is a great start. Ensure your child gets the day off to the best start by providing a breakfast that contains fiber and protein to keep them full throughout the morning.
- Get rid of the junk food options for snacks at school. Pack fruits or veggies.
- Why allow sugar-containing drinks? These are empty calories. Sixty-eight percent of kids drink one daily at school. Encourage flavored water or sugar-free sports drinks.
- Lunch should be varied, and in appropriate portions. Read the portion sizes on the label and measure it out a few times with your child. You’ll be amazed.
- After school snacks should be fruits or veggies only. It is a time they are hungry and will be willing to eat almost anything. It allows for less pressure at dinner to get a veggie on their plate.
I realize this sounds like offering fruits and vegetables is the answer and if your kids are like mine, this is often the last thing they want. However, continue to present options that are healthy. Even though they may not eat these new options right away, they will. Studies show that just presenting the healthy options more often will result in the child trying the healthier option.
It’s not just presentation, but also how they feel at the time. I am sure many of you remember not being allowed to leave the dinner table until those green things were eaten. I remember sitting there at the table for what felt like hours after dinner was over. Being forced to eat certain foods can seem like a punishment. Instead, encourage your kids to eat healthy items at snack times or first at dinner while they’re still hungry and more willing to try.
And, not surprisingly, kids need to see us eating healthy food on a regular basis so try to lead by example.
"The key for parents is to get kids to like healthy foods, not to eat healthy foods, because the eating will naturally follow the liking." Jennifer Fisher, Ph.D., Temple University.
Gregory Sweat, MD, is the Medical Director of the Shawnee Mission Physicians Group and practices Family Medicine at Shawnee Mission Primary Care - Prairie View Medical Building.