This post is part 4 of 5 in the Back-to-School 2015 series.
The transition from summer to “back to school” can be hectic. In all the chaos it’s easy to let healthy eating slide, but spending just a little extra time creating routines now will set your family up for an entire year of healthy eating.
Here are four tips for making this year your healthiest year yet!
Establish a kid-friendly, easily accessible home for your healthy snacks. For example, our toddler has had his own cupboard and drawer in our refrigerator since he could crawl. He knows that any time he asks for a snack, he can choose something from those areas. The goal here is to make choosing a healthy snack easy and accessible so hungry kids can make good choices without really “trying.” A snack list on the fridge can serve the same purpose for older kids. If you do choose to keep “junk food” in the house, put it in the least convenient/accessible place possible such as in a high, hard-to-reach cupboard. Out of sight, out of mind works wonders with kids.
Pick Produce First
We all tend to eat a carb-heavy diet, which has been shown to be detrimental for a huge number of reasons. To encourage more fruits and veggies in your kids eating, have a house rule that whenever you snack, you choose produce first. Personally, I think trying to eliminate the delicious Goldfish cracker or occasional Teddy Graham has the potential to set up unhealthy eating down the road. The goal is to teach kids that nothing is off limits, however, we want to get the “good stuff” in FIRST.
To make choosing produce easy, have a fruit bowl in a prominent place full of things your kids like. Keep pre-washed and bagged portions of fruits and veggies in the fridge in the front, so they’re the first thing you see when you open the door. Then set a good example! If your kids see you reaching for a apple after work or snacking on baby carrots while you make dinner, they’ll just assume that’s normal behavior and follow suit!
In a perfect world we’d all send a perfectly packed, nutritionally balanced lunch with our kids, right? In the real world, however, things can get a little more complicated. In addition, many children would prefer school lunch over bringing one from home; but for most of us, our kids eat healthier when we pack a lunch for them, so what’s a parent to do?
I advocate an 80/20 rule with my clients: eat healthy, unprocessed, low sugar foods 80-percent of the time, and enjoy the other 20-percent by eating whatever it is your truly love but that isn’t so great for you. I think the same idea works for kids! A family I know sits down with their two school-aged kids each week and chooses which day they will get to eat school lunch, and then they pack a lunch the rest of the week. That way everyone wins, and it gives them the opportunity to talk about different foods with their kids on a weekly basis which is a great teaching opportunity!
As your kids get older, include them in lunch packing and menu choosing as much as possible. They’ll learn valuable cooking/prep skills, you’ll save yourself some time, and you can instill healthy eating habits all at the same time. Win, win!
We all know the best way to get our kids to do anything is to make it “their idea,” right?!? Utilize this tactic with healthy eating. First, identify which changes you would like to make in your family’s eating. Less fast food? Less sugar? More veggies? More sitting down around the table eating unprocessed food? Maybe you’d like to try more vegetarian or gluten free meals? Whatever it is, think of ways you can get your kids involved.
Want to eat less fast food? Sit down as a family and choose which night you’ll “eat out” ahead of time, so you all have a plan. Then there won’t be a last-minute “I’m-starving-we-have-nothing-for-dinner” crisis which, in our family, leads to ordering something. Plan, plan, plan!
If incorporating more veggies is your goal try the “something old, something new” trick. Choose an established veggie your family likes and serve it with a new veggie, or one that’s a harder sell. We do this with carrots and cauliflower. Everyone loves carrots. Cauliflower, not so much. BUT, put them together, with a sprinkle of cheese, and all of a sudden they seem much more friendly.
Switching to gluten-free cooking can be tough, but a lot of Mexican and Asian cooking is naturally gluten-free, so you could choose three recipes and ask which one your kids want to try. For example, fried rice is a yummy, super easy recipe kids can help make. Let them make as many decisions as possible: which kind of veggies? Should we add teriyaki or plum sauce? Garlic or green onions? Let’s start by adding one egg, should we add another one? You get the idea. Choices = ownership = excitement over the new recipe “they” made.
What tips would you add for establishing and maintaining healthy eating habits this school year and beyond?
Read more from our Back-to-School 2015 series!
- Back-to-School: A Teacher’s Perspective
- What Back-to-School Means for the Homeschooling Mom
- Smooth Operator: Advice for Your Back-to-School Transition
- I See You: A Letter to My Child’s Teacher (coming up)