Last week I shared some suggestions on encouraging your little ones to eat healthy meals. Here’s part two – some practical applications for food preparation.
Learn Quick, Easy Cooking to Accommodate Your Busy Schedule
Kid’s sports/activities and busy evenings make healthy dinners seem impossible. It’s so easy to just pick up fast food and have a picnic dinner at the soccer field. But fast-food bad habits are easy to start and hard to break.
My best tricks for busy evenings are 1) freezer cooking, 2) crock-pot cooking and 3) paper plates. You need to pre-cook something that you can pull out of the freezer and heat up quickly, or start something in the crock-pot earlier in the day that is ready-to-go at dinner time. Don’t be afraid to use disposable plates and cups at home. One of the appeals of fast food is easy clean-up/no dishes. It’s better to eat healthy food on paper plates than buy fast food.
We bought an extra freezer to go in the basement. Now I double the recipe whenever I cook and put the extra meal in the freezer. I have also started using a freezer-cooking menu-making web site called OnceAMonthMom.com. You might also try commercial freezer-cooking companies such as Meal-Makers.
Don’t Skip Breakfast
People who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight than those who eat breakfast. Kids who skip breakfast do not perform as well in school compared to their breakfast-eating peers. Breakfast needs to be quick, easy, and healthy. Try unsweetened cereal with honey on top instead of pre-sweetened cereal. Use skim milk. If your kids (or you) don’t like the taste of skim milk, cut down slowly from full-fat milk to 2%, 1% and then skim. Try regular oatmeal sweetened with fruit, apple sauce, maple syrup or honey. Make a large batch of whole-wheat or bran muffins and freeze them. Take out enough for your family the night before so they are ready to go before school.
Keep School Lunch Healthy
The good news is that school lunches are getting healthier these days. The bad news is that kids still have too many options for junk food at school. If your child is only offered the standard school lunch, they are probably getting a decent meal. But the problem is the food choices offered. What kid eats green beans and skips dessert?
Our public school offers sugar-laden snacks in the mid-morning, flavored milk at lunch (chocolate, strawberry or vanilla), and a lunch dessert. One trip to the school cafeteria says it all: the milk cooler is 90% full of flavored milk and 10% white milk, only half of which is 2% milk. The dessert section has about fifty servings of Jello or pudding and a few servings of canned fruit. The veggie section is full of carrot sticks and ranch dressing, but there is one side salad that looks like it has been sitting there for several hours.
My biggest issue with school nutrition is the classroom snacks. Mid-morning snacks have been shown in pediatric research to improve memory and cognitive performance in elementary students. Usually these snacks are provided by parents. But concerns over allergens and food-born illnesses have lead many schools to require snacks to be store-bought and pre-packaged. This leads to a predominance of high sugar snacks with limited nutritional value. If kids eat a sugar-laden granola bar at 10 am, they probably will skip the healthy parts of lunch at 11:30.
We pack our lunches. Click here for some of my healthy school lunch ideas
Offer Fruits and Veggies at Every Meal and for Snacks
This is really hard. Remember, the key to success with healthy foods is exposure and limiting sugar.
- Pre-chop carrots, celery, and fruit and package it in single-serving zip lock bags, or buy pre-packaged single-serving apples and carrots.
- Try Clementines and small apples
- Buy pre-washed salad and steam-in-bag microwave vegetables
Remember the lessons of Cookie Monster
Cookie Monster taught us: gluttony is easy, self-control is hard. When we teach our kids to eat well, we give them so much more than health. We teach them self-control. I teach my children the words “gluttony” and “self-control” so that I have something to say besides “no” when they ask for junk food.
My three-year-old saw a man buy ice cream at a concession stand after a sporting event. “That’s gluttony!” she shouted, pointing to the man’s ice cream. Maybe it’s time to work on manners.