As children head back to school, life for families becomes more hectic. But just because days are busy, don’t allow nutrition to fall by the wayside. Teaching children nutritious eating habits now can mean a lifetime of health – in addition to the social benefits of eating, laughing and spending time together.
“The more parents can do to involve children in the process, the decisions on what they are eating and where their food comes from, the better off they will be at helping them learn reverence and appreciation for food,” said Anni Daulter, professional cook, nutrition expert and author of several books, including “The Organic Family Cookbook” (Sellers Publishing, 2011).
Following are some simple tips from Daulter to get children excited about nutrition and urge them to make good food choices.
Make mealtime special
Create a routine. Consider starting dinner at the same time each night. Designate different nights for different types of meals, such as vegetarian Mondays or make-your-own pizza Saturdays. Encourage children to help with meal preparation and cleanup, if age appropriate. Light a candle during dinner, and allocate plenty of time for conversation – it’s one of the best ways to bond with loved ones.
“In our fast-paced lives, we have somehow lost the concept that eating is not just about the actual food,” Daulter said. “It’s about the connection, the time spent enjoying every bite, laughing, talking and sharing. Our families need this time together.”
Adopt a healthful morning routine
While many families feel the crunch on weekday mornings, it’s important to make time for breakfast so that children get the nutrition they need before heading to school. Healthful breakfasts incorporate whole grains, protein, fresh fruit and supplements that support brain and body health.
“Supplements can be an easy way for mom and dad to ensure that their children get the important nutrients they need, especially during busy mornings,” Daulter noted.
She recommends giving children a boost of brain-building nutrition with an omega-3 supplement.
“This essential nutrient is brain food, proven to support brain growth and health,” Daulter added. “Additionally, omega-3s support a healthy immune and nervous system.”
Make tasty school lunches
When children are fed better, they learn better, according to Daulter.
“Their bodies react to being fed good, pure foods that give them the fuel they need to get through each and every school day,” she said.
Save time by making lunches the night before, or organize a big Sunday cut-and-chop day for raw ingredients throughout the week.
Daulter said she puts items like black-bean soup, Caesar salad, homemade wheat parmesan chips and Asian pears and clementines in her children’s lunches.
Have nutritious snacks on hand
Daulter said she keeps several small children’s tables throughout the house so that her kids can nibble on snacks while they play. She offers snacks like nuts, homemade fruit roll-ups, pumpkin seeds, veggie popcorn, fresh fruits, carrot sticks and cheese.
“Kids’ bodies tend to be more in tune with their internal signals, and they inherently seem to know that they need more little meals throughout the day rather than three big meals,” she said. “Eating smaller portions frequently throughout the day provides more energy when we need it and is easier for our bodies to digest.”
Teach better eating habits
Most children enjoy being involved in the meal preparation process. When you go to the grocery store or farmers’ market, allow children to help select veggies and fruits. If you grow your own, let them pick the produce and help wash, peel and prep it for meals.
“My kids and their friends love to cook and help us prepare meals, and the more we include them in the process, the more invested they become in their own health,” Daulter said. “Even the youngest child can help mix in flour for fresh bread or learn to whip her own honey butter.”
Daulter said including children in meal preparation gives them not only practical and valuable life skills, but also “loving memories of family cooking days that were spent laughing, creating and, of course, eating.”