Ask the Experts—Back to School: Healthy Lunch Choices
This month’s question: "Back to school and back to cafeteria food means that my kids may not be presented with the healthiest options. How can I help them make good food choices for their school lunches?"
When you can’t send lunch to school with your kids, it can be a challenge to make sure they pick out healthy options from the cafeteria. One way to help them is to teach them in a fun way about healthy foods and how they fuel the body. There are some great new apps that can help teach nutrition in an engaging, entertaining way that kids can easily retain.
- My Food Fight! by Field Fresh Apps (http://www.fieldfreshapps.com/my-food-fight.php) is a fun interactive journey to combat the health enemies that we each encounter daily. Focused on nutrient density in food, players are rewarded for their consumption of high nutrient dense and organic foods.
- Pick Chow! (http://www.zisboombah.com) ZisBoomBah’s free online tool “Pick Chow!” allows children to create meals by dragging and dropping foods onto their virtual plate. The “Add it Up!” meters show the nutritional values in a fun and easy way and rates each meal with one to five stars – a feature that helps children learn quickly how their choices make a difference in creating a well-balanced meal. Pick Chow! won first place in USDA’s Apps for Healthy Kids contest.
- Fitter Critters (http://fittercritters.com) is a game platform designed to transform children's attitudes toward eating and nutrition, while developing the skills they need to become informed consumers capable of making better choices about their own diets.” The app won an Honorable Mention award in USDA’s Apps for Healthy Kids contest.
Of course there are also offline ways to teach your child healthy nutrition, such as books and programs, even current documentaries about healthy nutrition. Whichever way you choose, if you make smart food choices fun, your child will be more likely to remember it next time they have to decide what to put on their cafeteria tray.
Tamara Walker RN is a talk show host and speaker in Edmond. www.momrn.com.
Taking their own lunch is always a very positive alternative. Buy healthy but fun foods and give kids plenty of choices. Talk with your kids about their lunch choices when they are going to eat at school. Encourage them to make positive and responsible choices. It might also be fun to come up with a system to track their energy levels by what they eat each day. Something like; A “10” means I could play all day, remembered all the questions on the test and was able to control my mouth. A “1” means I fell asleep in class, had no energy on the playground and didn’t remember my spelling words that we studied last night. Any opportunities to educate and possibly reward your kids for healthy choices is always a plus and it’s an extra benefit when it’s fun as well.
Donnie Van Curen, M.A., LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist with Counseling 1820, LLC. 405-823-4302, www.counseling1820.com.
There are several tools that parents can use to try to help children to eat better. If the cafeteria food is not healthy, get active at school through the Parent Teacher Organization or the school’s Healthy and Fit School Advisory Committee—if they don't have one, find out why. These organizations make things happen at the policy level and need your input. Try to pack your child’s lunch so you know he’s getting healthy food more often then not. At home, model good food choices and eat well-balanced meals together at the table. Strive to serve a healthy breakfast and dinner so you know your child is getting effective fuel at least twice a day.
Matt Jacobs, MA, RD, LD, NSCA-CPT is a Sports Dietitian and Fitness Consultant in private practice. oksportsrd.weebly.com.
As a person who has struggled with weight loss, food is a big issue for me. We all feel better physically and mentally when we eat nutritiously, so one of the first questions I ask parents when they talk to me about their child’s poor behavior is “what are you feeding your child?” Food is an important component for children, their behavior, their moods and their learning ability.
I would encourage you to use your meal times to teach your children how to make good nutrition choices; allow them to eat sweets, but in moderation, and teach them that when they do have a sugary treat, they need to couple that with a protein (to help stabilize the sugars in their bodies). Eating at school is a great opportunity for kids to have some freedom and make their own choices. If you feed them well and model good choices for them when you are together, they will make better choices when they are on their own.
Devonne Carter, LCSW, is a Clinical Social Worker in private practice in Edmond. 405-326-3923, www.carterscounseling.com.
Our Readers Respond:
- Make sure your kids know that colorful foods are often healthier. Have them load up on red, yellow and green options and mimimize the brown, white or beige.
- Let your kids go to the grocery store with you. Not only can they choose things to go in their lunch, you can talk about what foods are healthy and what foods are not. Hopefully they will remember next time they eat at school.
- Ask your kids every day what they ate for lunch and then come up with a point system for deciding how healthy each food choice was. If they get enough points for choosing healthy during the school week, plan a fun treat for the family on the weekend.
- Practicing good lunch choices at home equals kids knowing what to choose at school.
Thanks to Mary R., @TheMomOnTheGo, Samantha L. and Sarah T. for your feedback.
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