It’s back to school time. Hectic schedules, homework, and organized sports can make it extremely challenging for kids to eat well, stay focused, and perform at their best. Here are a few strategies to encourage healthy food choices for your child.
Get plenty of protein: While kids tend to gravitate towards carbohydrate rich meals and snacks, teach them that healthy proteins are a must. Protein will keep kids fuller longer and will help them to stay focused in the classroom. It will also support muscle growth. Protein choices include lean chicken, eggs, turkey, tuna fish, canned salmon, beans, dairy or dairy substitutes, nuts, nut butters, seeds, tofu, and edamame.
Make fruit and vegetables a dietary staple: Teach your kids to include rainbow of colors. A variety of colorful fruits and vegetables will provide them with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Fruits and vegetables will also keep them fuller longer.
Include health fats: Healthy fats support brain development, eye health, and like protein, will help kids stay fuller longer. Fats will also help kids to better absorb certain vitamins such as A, D, E and K. Healthy fats include things like nuts, seeds, nut butters, olives, avocado, and olive oil.
Reduce sugar intake: While occasional treats are always fun, children who consume large amounts of sugary foods may find it harder to stay energized and focused throughout the day. Refined carbohydrates and starches will raise a child’s blood sugar initially, but will then cause a sudden drop in blood sugar as their hormone insulin responds. When blood sugar drops, children will feel tired, hungry or ‘hangry’. I recommend that kids avoid starting the day with sugary cereals, pastries, and other common breakfast foods and instead include protein at breakfast. This will prevent them from being hungry by mid morning. Apply this same approach after school in order to keep them focused on homework and activities.
Read labels: Strive to provide your children with foods that are low in preservatives, additives and colors. Although a bit controversial, there have been studies which have shown that additives in food can contribute to hyperactivity in children.
Drink water: Choose water over sugary sports drinks. Water is always the best choice. Encourage this habit early on. Teach your child to carry a water bottle to school and to drink water before during and after sports practice.
Teach them how to balance their plate: Instill the habit of eating at least 3 food groups at meals. Food groups include protein, fruit, vegetables, starches, fats, dairy or dairy substitutes. A lunch might look like this: Chicken strips, broccoli, strawberries, whole grain crackers and a piece of cheese. This will offer a more balanced diet and provide essential nutrients.
Practice Division of Responsibility: This means that as parents, you are responsible for what time of day your child eats and what choices are offered. They are responsible for how much (or how little) they eat. This encourages kids to build confidence with their food choices and to remain in tune with their hunger and fullness cues.
Encourage family meals: Family meals are a time for connection, sharing, and listening. Studies show that kids who engage in family meals perform better in school. Make family meals a regular part of your schedule. If dinner is too hectic of a time to sit down together, try another meal such as breakfast.
Encourage participation and involvement with food choices: Whether it’s packing lunches, preparing after school snacks, helping to prepare dinner, or tagging along when grocery shopping, getting your kids involved with the planning and preparation of meals will help them develop healthy eating habits and will encourage mutual respect in terms of food choices.
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