By Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD, nutrition advisor for Best Food Facts
With ‘Back to School’ advertisements flooding our lives, it's safe to say that, for many kids, school is readily on the brain. While sending your children off for the next stage of their lives, you may note that their eating habits have taken a turn for the worse while they were enjoying their summer days of freedom.
A review of several studies compiled by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that a lot of kids take a vacation from healthy eating and fitness habits over the summer months. For example, a joint study from The Ohio State and Indiana Universities found that the average body mass index (BMI) — an indicator of body fat — of 5,000 kindergarten and first-graders in schools across the country increased more than twice as fast as during the summer as compared to the school year.
Back to School Rules
Even though a little flex time was great for kids, parents still need to set some ground rules for food and fitness.
- Limit screen time to one hour a day after school and encourage some kind of physical activity for at least one hour a day.
- Rather than banning chips and sodas, set up specific boundaries for splurge foods such as soft drinks only with lunch on Saturday, or eat a serving of potato chips in a small bowl, not out of the bag.
- Work your salesmanship skills for healthy foods. Try this pitch, “This apple is so delicious - and beautiful! I’m so happy it is apple season.”
Lastly, make that after school snack count by creating a mini-meal with a trio of healthy components: protein, whole grains and produce. For example:
- String cheese, grapes or strawberries and a few whole grain crackers
- Whole grain bread slice with peanut butter or deli turkey and sliced apples
- Baby carrots, chickpea hummus dip and whole grain pita bread half
Make healthy eating fun and memorable. Try taking a trip down to the grocery store or farmers market and let THEM pick out a vegetable that catches their eye! This can even mean eating out now and then, which can be a good thing!
Sometimes the best place to introduce kids to a new vegetable is at a restaurant because the chefs know how to prepare them so they taste great. Who knew that roasted Brussels sprouts would become the darling of the vegetable world? Restaurant veggies might be your kids’ “gateway” vegetable to healthier eating!