Well, maybe our kids have replaced the lyrics of Alice Cooper with the likes of One Direction and Taylor Swift, but the story remains the same. No more pencils, no more books, and a lot more freedom to eat, play and watch TV as children please.
It’s important as parents to provide a wide variety of healthy, nutritious foods at home. By improving access to healthy food options and limiting unhealthy selections, you can feel more confident knowing that your children are consuming well-balanced meals and snacks at home. As a 12-year-old, my days usually started with a big bowl of sugary, sweetened cereal, followed by mac ‘n cheese, hot dogs and an unhealthy dose of soap operas. While I was also very active with swimming, riding bikes and jumping on trampolines, my diet certainly had room for improvement. It’s never too early or too late to teach your kids about nutrition and well-balanced meals. The simplest way to illustrate a healthy meal is using the plate method. The plate method encourages you to fill half your plates with fruits and vegetables, one fourth with lean protein and one fourth with grains (preferably whole grains).
Here is a list of examples to help your kids put together healthy, well-balanced meals.
- Whole wheat bread
- Whole grain cereal
- Whole wheat crackers
- Brown or wild rice
- Whole wheat or corn tortilla
- Lean meat
- Peanut butter
- Low-fat milk
- Low-fat yogurt
- Low-fat cheese/string cheese
- Green salad
- Fresh green beans
- Red, yellow, green bell peppers
Sweetened cereals like Frosted Flakes and Lucky Charms are not the best start for the day because they lack many important nutrients and contain excessive amounts of added sugars. Here’s a tip for weaning kids away from these sugar-packed cereal varieties: encourage kids to mix a healthier cereal such as Cheerios, Bran Flakes, Shredded Mini Wheats or other high-fiber variety into their favorite cereal. This will help reduce the portion size of the sugary cereal and help improve the nutrient intake of fiber. Apple chunks, blueberries, banana slices, chopped nuts or dried fruit can be easily added to oatmeal to make breakfast more well-rounded. Whole grain tortillas spread with peanut butter and banana slices or eggs, low-fat cheese, salsa and beans make two great protein-packed breakfasts.
Lunch meals tend to be heavy on the starches. A turkey sandwich, chips, granola bar and dessert were the typical items packed in my lunch when going to summer camp.
The results of this lunch meal: Starch=5, Protein=1, and Fruits, Vegetables and Dairy=0.
To make this lunchbox healthier, we can swap the chips with low-fat yogurt, trade the granola bar for carrot and celery sticks with one tablespoon of low-fat ranch, and include a clementine for the dessert. Mac ‘n cheese is okay to eat still, but it should be featured as a side item rather than the entrée. Pre-cutting vegetables and fruits and measuring individual containers of peanut butter, hummus, yogurt or low-fat ranch for dips can make healthy selections much more accessible.
Another valuable lesson to learn early on in life is that snacks do not equal desserts. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be fun. Try to create snacks that include at least two food groups. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Homemade trail mix with nuts, dried fruit and whole grain cereal
- Celery logs topped with peanut butter and raisins
- Small oranges with low-fat string cheese
- Slice apples to make a mini peanut butter, granola sandwiches
- Top a whole grain cracker with low-fat cream cheese and grape halves
- Mix yogurt with fresh fruit chunks
Sometimes, rules need to be enforced on how much screen time is allowed each day. It is recommended that kids spend no more than two hours per day watching TV, playing video games, on the computer, etc. If you find your kids do spend excessive amounts of time in front of the TV, try setting limits like “TV may only be watched from 1:00-2:30.” Physical activity should always be encouraged in a positive light and never used as a form of punishment. Encourage safe, outdoor activities; it’s summer time after all!