Brown Bag It!
Make Good Choices
By Janel Atlas
Is lunch your kid's favorite subject at school? Learn how to help your child make healthy choices that will give her energy for the rest of the day.
Are you afraid your kids just don't eat very well? Do they get too much junk food and not enough good-for-them foods?
Parents of babies and toddlers generally control what their little ones eat, but as children grow—and attend school, visit friends' houses, and even buy their own food—parents exercise less control. Add to this the media's influence over kids' food choices, including heavy marketing of high-sugar and high-fat foods, and it's even more tempting for kids to eat junk food when you're not around.
That's why it's important to teach kids to make good choices when it comes to what they eat away from home. We asked some experts for advice on how to instill healthful eating habits in kids. Here's what they recommend:
Balance is Key
Sharon Collison, a Newark, Delaware, dietitian, says balance is important. A child's diet should include whole grains, vegetables, fruit, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein sources. Just as important as your encouragement to eat healthy foods is that you don't ban any foods. "All foods can fit," she says. "There are no good foods or bad foods."
It's just a matter of how often you indulge. For example, Collison's two girls, ages nine and seven, have either a small bowl of ice cream or a couple of small cookies after dinner.
Debbie Micklos, mom to 14-year-old Amy and 12-year-old John, makes sure she always stocks the pantry and refrigerator with nutritious snack options. That way, when the munchies strike, her kids can choose foods that are tasty and healthy.
"Right now, I'm teaching Amy to prepare healthy snacks," Micklos says. Among the things Amy makes are fruit-and-yogurt parfaits.
It Starts with Breakfast
One of the best ways to help your kids make smart choices away from home is to fill them up at home. For years, experts have touted the wonders of a nutritious breakfast, and the evidence continues to mount that it's the most important meal of the day.
Parents, especially of preteens and teens, know breakfast can be a battle. Micklos shares a tactic she has adopted: "I have a philosophy that it is more important that children eat breakfast than that they eat 'breakfast food,'" she says. "The children sometimes eat leftovers, sometimes cereal, sometimes soup. That has taken the fight out of breakfast."