Helping Your Kids Make Healthy Food Choices

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It can be a chore to get kids to eat well. Busy two-parent families with dual income work schedules, and a host of after-school obligations, can make it difficult to sit down to a family meal together. But our brains and bodies, like high performance race cars, function best on premium fuel. They can’t grow well and perform at optimum unless they’re adequately provided for with the right balance of fresh fruits, vegetables, fat, and protein. Here are some helpful tips to get your kids on the right nutritional path.


Breakfast Really Is The Most Important Meal Of The Day:

Any breakfast is better than none, but in general, you should be focusing on giving your children the boost of energy that will carry them through to lunchtime. Protein, such as eggs, nuts, cheese, and yogurt are all quick fix foods that pack a powerful punch. Add in some fresh fruit for fiber.  Avoid sugary foods and starches; these cause a crash in blood sugar that will make your kid want a mid-morning nap right when they can least afford it. You should avoid the traditional morning orange juice as well; fruit juice strips out the healthy fiber in favor of concentrated fructose, causing blood sugar spikes. Plus, it wreaks havoc on the teeth. Kids who eat a good breakfast do better in school and are healthier overall than kids who skip.


A Nutritious Lunch:

Federal school lunch standards mandate a healthy lunch, but in practice, they often provide an excess of starch and processed foods. The fruits and vegetables on offer are frequently unappealing and may end up in the waste bin among the fifty six percent of cafeteria produce that goes to waste there. Unless you know your school prepares a nutritious hot lunch, that your child is willing to eat, bag your own. You want a mix of protein, healthy fats and whole grains, with fresh fruit and vegetables that your child likes to eat. Consider egg salad sandwiches, pita chips with hummus, cold salads, or hot soups in a thermos. Include several different items each day and vary your menu so your child won’t get bored. Make sure to include plenty to drink, avoiding sugary juice or sodas. Proper hydration will help your child stay focused all afternoon.


The Family Dinner:

One of the most important things you can do with your kids is to sit down to dinner with them every night. It’s a more potent predictor of higher performance scores than academic achievement, sports, or art. It’s correlated with lower risk of dangerous behaviors such as drug use, smoking, and alcohol abuse, and seems to be a protective factor against depression and suicidal thoughts.

Get your kids involved in preparing meals from a young age; this is great for encouraging family communication, fostering independence, and teaching valuable life skills. Pull out your family recipe box and go through it together, discussing what you liked to eat when you were growing up. Talk to your kids about favorite family recipes, and share stories about family meals in your past. Enlist them in feeding the family. Kids who feel involved in meal preparation have a vested interest in the meal’s contents and cooking methods. This helps them to learn to make healthy food choices that will serve them for years to come. Studies show that kids who cook and eat with their families are less likely to become obese in adulthood.

Additionally, teaching children to shop for, and purchase ingredients, reinforces useful math concepts and imparts frugality.  Plan meals together using the week’s grocery ads, focusing around sales on produce. Take your child along to the butcher to learn to select and prepare inexpensive cuts of meat for the entire family. Clip coupons together and get your child excited about budgeting the family grocery list with tips from Plexus. Give your child a stake in the family dinner table, and it will bear dividends his whole life.

Proper nutrition is tied to better academic performance and healthier lifestyle choices in our adult lives. But cooking and eating with our children gives us even greater benefits. Our food ways are part of our cultural patrimony. When we hand on family recipes and cooking techniques, we are passing on family stories and facilitating communication between ourselves and our children. We’re creating bonds with our past, and laying the foundations for our family’s futures.


Amanda Henderson

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