By Jessie Funchion, MS, RD, LDN

 

Back to School… 

It’s that time of year! Summer is practically over and school is back in session. A healthy lunch can be tricky with kids, so here are some ideas to get you started.

First option – school food. While cafeteria food rarely gets a great rap, these days school lunches are strictly regulated and actually must require a specific combination of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and dairy in order to qualify for federal reimbursement. So, while they may not be the tastiest options, school provided lunches are relatively well balanced and nutritious.

 

Second option – packed lunch. Couple things to keep in mind…

  • Think Food Groups. MyPlate is the latest food graphic published by the USDA, and can make a great guide for parents as they pack lunches. Try to include at least 3 of the 5 food groups at each meal.
  • Pack at least one fruit or vegetable.
  • Keep it simple. School lunches are not the time to get adventurous and introduce a new food to your child. Try to pack mostly foods you know they will like, and maybe one riskier pick.

 

Here are a few ideas…

 

1)    Healthier PB&J – Instead of spreading sugar-packed jam or jelly, try mashing fresh berries or slicing banana onto the nut butter instead. If allergies are a concern, sunbutter is a safe nut free option. Whole grain bread has more fiber than white bread, which will make it more filling.

2)     Quesadillas – Choose whole-wheat tortillas, low fat cheese, and a protein source like black beans or grilled chicken. Bonus points for sneaking in some veggies! Kids love hand-held food, and quesadillas hold up relatively well overnight.

3)    Veggies and Dip – If veggies are a tough sell, try packing a dip or spread such as hummus, salsa or yogurt-based dressing. These dips provide flavor without a ton of extra fat or salt.

4)    Skewers – The options are endless here. A classic combination is tomato, mozzarella and cucumber, but you could make skewers with chicken, tofu, and any fruit or vegetable your child likes.

5)    Pasta salad – Grain based salads hold up well in a cooler, and can be eaten chilled or at room temperature. Pick a pasta shape your kid will like, and mix in vegetables and protein source like chickpeas, chicken or cheese.

6)    See our Pinterest page for more dietitian-approved ideas.

 

If some of these seem a little adventurous, parents may find it helpful to get kids involved with the packing process. While this will take a little extra time at first, kids are more likely to try a food if they’ve picked it out themselves or even helped prepare it. Kid friendly tasks include mashing berries, ripping up lettuce or spinach leaves, sticking fruit on a skewer, or stirring dressing into a pasta salad. Picky kids often require repeated exposure to food before trying it, upwards of 30 times! So we encourage parents to be patient, continue offering new foods, and get their little ones involved with the process.

by Heather A. Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN

Though you may know what a healthful diet looks like for your child, getting him or her to eat it is not always a success. If you have children, particularly toddlers, chances are you’ve experienced the mealtime battles, tossing out perfectly good food (or cleaning it off the floor and walls), and then stressing about adequate nutrition.

 

Fussy or “picky” eating can be incredibly frustrating for parents, grandparents and other caretakers. Whether it’s a food jag (eating only one or a couple things for an extended period) or the more extreme refusal to eat anything, toddler and preschool-aged children are learning to exert independence and test boundaries.

 

One oft-prosed method in which to overcome these issues is for parents to stand their ground, putting pressure on children to eat the foods presented. But new research published in the journal Appetite suggests that pressuring is not an effective approach.

 

This University of Michigan study followed an ethnically diverse group of 244 two- and three-year-olds for a period of one year. The researchers compared parental tactics to the children’s growth and how picky eating changed during that period, and found that both the kids’ weight and picky behaviors remained stable regardless of parents pressuring them or not. One curious finding, however, is that strong-arming at the table may instead result in damage to the personal relationship between parent and child – certainly not the desired effect.

 

As parents and caretakers, we are responsible for providing nutritious options for our children in a safe, welcoming environment. Here are several ideas to encourage mealtime acceptance in a healthy way:

 

·       Involve children in gardening to help them learn where food comes from and how it grows.

·       Encourage kids to select a new fruit, vegetable or whole grain at the grocery store or market, then find a recipe and prepare it together.

·       Talk with children about the colors, shapes and sounds a food makes when you break or bite into it.

·       If you have access, a farmer’s market is a great place for kids to explore new things and learn about new ingredients.

·       Schedule meals and snacks at roughly the same time daily – kids thrive on routine and consistency.

·       Turn off the TV and other devices to eliminate distractions.

·       Model good behavior yourself by offering and trying a couple of nutritious options at meals.

·       Be creative and make mealtimes about togetherness and fun at the table.

·       If your children are a bit older, talk about nutrition and why the foods offered are good for their growing bodies.

 

When kids develop healthy habits early in life, the benefits will last a lifetime. Picky eater or not, give a few of these ideas a try to promote acceptance, minimize mealtime battles, and to help your child learn to appreciate, even love, nutritious food.

 

 

RESOURCES

Connecting with Kids Through Food Art, Food & Nutrition Magazine

8 Ways to Get Picky Eaters to Become More Adventurous, Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Expert Tips to Get Kids Eating – and Cooking – Healthy Foods, Oldways

Three Tips to Teach Food Literacy to Kids, and Carrot & Raisin Citrus Salad, Eating Rules

Free Childhood Nutrition Resources, Jill Castle, MS, RDN

 

 

REFERENCES

Lumeng JC, Miller AL, Appugliese K, Rosenblum N, Kaciroti N. Picky eating, pressuring feeding, and growth in toddlers. Appetite. 2018;123:299