The alarm clock rings and it's time to get ready for school. Pop quiz. What do you have prepared for breakfast? How about lunch? You scramble (some eggs?) to get things in order: a sandwich, some veggies and fruits, throw in some cookies; or maybe, a pre-packaged combination of all of the above. Hopefully, you’ve given this some forethought.
Rinse and repeat countless more times this school year.
Getting your kids properly fed to start the school day and then at lunch is among the more vexing challenges for parents. Whether they take lunch with them or eat meals prepared at school, creating healthy habits and avoiding unhealthy pitfalls has a critical impact on not only their school days, but the rest of their lives. It’s that important!
Luckily, you don’t have to go at it alone. Follow these basic principles and guidelines to ease your nutrition burden and keep your child healthy in school and life.
Make lunch the night before. According to FLIPANY, a non-profit organization that provides healthy meals to kids across Miami-Dade, parents’ hectic schedules often limit their time to prepare healthy food. That’s just one reason that you should do all this the night before. Preparing lunch a night early will ease anxiety and give you plenty of time to think about a balanced meal for your child. Make sure that the food you do prepare keeps well overnight – including properly separating foods, avoiding meals that will get soggy and using whole fruits and veggies rather than cut ones.
Embrace school-provided offerings. For many parents, budget and time restrictions make bagging school lunches for their kids a nonstarter. Fortunately, Miami-Dade Schools offers healthy options – every meal must meet USDA nutrition guidelines – for both breakfast and lunch. All kids get free breakfast and the district offers free and reduced lunches. What’s more, you can track your children’s meals on www.paypams.com and see the week’s upcoming menu.
Get kids involved in meal preparation and shopping. There’s nothing like slaving over your children’s lunch only for them to come up to you after school and complain about what you made. To avoid this, make your kids active participants in shopping and meal preparation. “When children are included in selecting and preparing food they are more likely to eat it,” said Lynne Kunins, FLIPANY founder and CEO. Plus, they won’t be able to complain about lunch if they picked it themselves!
Slow down on the sweet stuff. Sure, pumping your kids full of sugary cereal and sending them off to school seems like an easy plan. But it’s one that will make their overall health suffer. Instead, avoid breakfast foods that are loaded with added sugar, which can include some cereals, yogurts, breakfast bars and pastries. Cereals should contain whole grains and a low amount of added sugars. For unsweetened cereal or yogurt, add some fresh fruit to give it some sweetness.
Drink and thrive. As important as what your children eat at school is what they drink. According to FLIPANY, children should limit the amount of fruit juice they consume – the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends they eat their fruits, not drink them, to get the benefits of fiber. Also, though milk has many nutritional benefits, encourage dairy alternatives like almond milk on occasion and don’t be afraid to pack some water with meals as a recent U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that most kids don’t drink enough H2O on a daily basis, which correlates with childhood obesity.