Start your child’s school year off right by helping him or her make healthy food choices when it comes to school lunch.
What you do at home is just as important, says Tanya Zuckerbrot, M.S., R.D., and author of “The F-Factor Diet” (Putnam, 2006).
“Set a good example at home,” Zuckerbrot says. “Children learn from their parents’ habits at home. Therefore, you need to be aware of the foods you regularly serve, the way you treat snacking and you overall attitude towards food.”
One good habit to implement is teaching your children the importance of a good breakfast.
“If your children are starving when lunch rolls around, they’ll inevitably eat more than they should or really need,” she says. “If they start off with a good breakfast, they’re more likely to eat the right portions in the cafeteria.”
When it comes to their lunch, make it healthy. If they tell you they are missing the pizza being served at lunch, encourage them to make their own version. Zuckerbrot says use a whole-wheat pita with tomato sauce and low-fat mozzarella cheese sprinkled on top. Other healthy choices include making a turkey pinwheel sandwich using flatbread instead of regular bread. Be sure to add a fruit or vegetable, and a healthy drink (water preferably) to round out the meal.
However, don’t entirely cut out school lunches.
“Allow them to choose one school lunch a week, whatever it may be — pizza, roast beef sandwich, or chicken nuggets,” she says.
Be sure to teach them about condiments, so when they choose a not-so-healthy lunch, they can avoid packing on extra calories and fat.
Pamela Gould, co-author of “Feeding the Kids” (Mancala Publishing, 2007), says, “If you know your children’s lunch selections aren’t very healthy, send along a nutrient-packed supplement, such as a piece of fruit, a baggie full of baby carrots or other vegetables.”
Take time to review the lunch menu together, and talk to your children about healthy choices they can make. Terra Wellington, wellness and lifestyle expert, recommends doing this at dinnertime, so you can point out on the dinner plate what are proteins, breads and grains, and vegetables.
“If you’ve presented a healthy meal for dinner, you can use that as an example of what your children should be looking for when it comes to lunchtime,” she says. “In fact, studies show that if you and your family enjoy healthy meals at home, then that positive association with good food will translate into making better choices outside the home.”