We all know that education is the best way to set our kids out on the right path. Unfortunately, some of the worst food choices are at school—where we send our kids to be educated…go figure. So, what’s a parent to do? We need to take matters into our own hands: We need to teach our kids how to make good food choices at home, so that when they’re out in the real world (or at school), they’ve had lots of practice!
Here are some tips on how to help your child make healthy eating choices where they are:
• Eat what the kids eat. Eating healthfully is like any other good habit we want our kids to pick up—reading, exercising, being kind to others, to name just a few. If you want them to do it, you’ll have to do it yourself. So if you typically eat carrots and dip them in hummus, they’ll want to try it soon enough! Mom and Dad make most everything look good.
• Eat meals together whenever possible. Meals are a great time to talk about food choices, how food is prepared, what is a healthy sized portion, what they like, what they don’t like. Don’t be afraid to discuss how fast food and other “not so good” choices are cooked and prepared. This open communication goes a long way to teaching our kids about food.
• Try, try again. Just because your kids might not like broccoli boiled (who does?), they might like it roasted with some olive oil. Or they might like it sautéed with homemade tomato sauce on top or steamed with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. The point is, just because they don’t like a food one way, doesn’t mean they don’t like the food. Don’t give up too soon on a good-for-you food. Experiment.
• Give your child a label lesson. Teach your kids to read labels. Go through the ingredients list and point out what’s in that salad dressing or granola bar. Run through all the words for sugar. Explain to them that if they can’t produce a word (try saying stearoyl lactylate), it’s probably a chemical. My daughter looked at the back of a “syrup” bottle and said, “Mom, there is no maple syrup in this maple syrup!” One very basic lesson to impart: The more ingredients listed, the more unhealthy the food is.
Brush up on the buffet. Set up a buffet style spread, similar to what your kids might find at school, right at home. Put out the food on the counter so the kids can serve themselves. Really, any type of foods can work—the point is that they have to serve themselves. If you want to get really creative, you can put out more than one entrée, side dish, and so on. For instance: Salad, dressing on the side, grilled chicken, barbeque chicken, brown rice, red potatoes, cookies and brownies for dessert. This will give you interesting insight into what your kids might choose, and whether your kids want to go back for more (and for what foods?!). If it’s easier, you can go to a local restaurant that serves buffet style and have the same type of experience. You might be pleasantly surprised at how well your child does! And if things don’t go as well as expected, use it as a teaching moment. Talk, without judging, about variety of foods, healthy portions, and trying new things.
And remember, you have a voice in your community—if you’re unhappy with the food choices in your school’s cafeteria, you should speak up to your school board or parent teacher association.
For more information, visit The LunchBox.org