School is back in session, and while every child is different, making sure your children maintain a healthy diet during the new school year should be a priority for everyone. Whether you have a brainiac, star athlete, or a child with a peanut allergy, Montefiore Medical Center’s associate wellness dietitian Maxine Yeung shares important nutritional advice that will set your child up for success.
The picky eater
Parents of picky eaters need to show kids how to eat healthily, not just talk about it. Being a good role model and leading by example will encourage kids to follow. But don’t expect it to happen right away. For some children, it can take up to 15 tries before they will eat a new food.
Patience and repetition are key: introduce new, healthy foods in a fun and visually appealing way, and encourage children to “eat the rainbow” by incorporating colorful fruits and vegetables. Use cookie cutters to turn food into fun shapes and always pair healthy foods with other ingredients children already enjoy. For the pickiest of eaters, try hiding healthy foods in meals they love. For example, blend vegetables in the meat used for spaghetti and meatballs.
The eager beaver
If your child is always willing to lend a hand, letting her get involved with meal planning is a fun way to introduce new foods. Grocery shopping as a family gives kids an opportunity to make healthy food choices with their parents and offers a platform for discussing healthy habits.
In the home, parents can turn their kitchen into a fun, interactive, healthy eating classroom by letting kids help cook. Allowing children to be involved in meal preparation gives them a sense of responsibility and increases the likelihood of them trying healthy foods.
Hydration is important for everyone, but especially for children involved in sports. Even slight dehydration can lead to impaired memory and fatigue, so kids need to hydrate before, during and after physical activities.
Limit sweetened beverages like soda and juice and encourage your children to drink water. If your child is reluctant, add fresh fruit or a small amount of 100 percent fruit juice to help make water sweeter. On game day, avoid sending your kid with a sports drink and instead pack her water and a snack such as a banana or orange.
Back-to-school means the return of extracurricular activities, including clubs, sports and after-school programs. Meal preparation is key for families that are always on-the-go.
Ease the stress that comes with a child’s busy schedule by packing lunch and snacks the night before, or even cooking meals a week in advance.
The child with food allergies
Food allergies are a growing problem in this country, affecting one in 13 children. Returning to school can increase the risk of an allergic reaction among children with food allergies, because it’s difficult to control a school environment.
Parents need to inform school officials about their child’s food allergies and make them aware of triggers, signs, and medication. Families can also ask about accommodations their school can make for students with food allergies, such as peanut-free tables, meal service practices, and restricted food zones.
The early- or late-luncher
Children need to eat frequently, and while a snack is a good idea for most young students, it’s essential for kids whose lunch is scheduled very early or late in the day.
Healthy snacks, like other meals, need to be balanced with protein and fiber, and should be low in sugar, saturated fat, and salt.