It seems like every time the TV transitions to a commercial, we are stuck watching the latest ad for where to find the best back to school deals on school supplies, trendy clothes, or sports physicals. If we manage to escape the ads about these deals, there is no doubt we will be bombarded with the newest kid-friendly snack boasting its “kid-tasted, mother approved” status or newly added flavors. So, as we prepare to head back to school in just a few short weeks… or maybe days for some of you… how do we prioritize and navigate this complicated question: What should I feed my children for lunch this year?
For some kids, a lunch provided by the school is not an option or is not acceptable. So, many parents and caregivers worry about what to make or pack children for lunch. To prevent last minute panic or a return to the “same old thing,” I recommend having a repertoire of eight to ten lunches that work for your child. This can prevent boredom, promote variety, make shopping easier, and reduce the stress sometimes associated with packing a healthful lunch.
These tips can help make filling your child’s lunch box less stressful:
On a Saturday or Sunday when you have some minutes to spare, make several containers or baggies of items to include in your child’s lunches for the week (for example: baby cut carrots, grapes, dry cereal, dried fruit).
Organize your storage container drawer and have a staging area set up with everything you need in one place, including: at least two lunch boxes or brown bags per child, plastic baggies, storage containers in all sizes, spoons and forks, napkins, straws, thermos or water bottle, and a marker.
Buy 8-fl-oz bottles of water or fill several water bottles, and keep the refrigerator stocked for the week. In the summer months, you may choose to freeze these so the ice is melted into cold water by lunchtime.
Know what to pack
It’s OK if your child likes to have a conventional lunch that includes a sandwich, fruit, vegetables, snack item, and a drink.
If your kid prefers to “pick” and does better with yogurt or cheese, for example, make sure you balance the meal so that it contains protein, fruit and/or vegetables, some carbohydrate, and fat.
Involve your child in packing the lunch, as much as possible. Older children can often prepare and pack their own lunch with adult supervision.
If you are planning to pack dinner leftovers for lunch, pack the storage container as you are cleaning up for dinner. This saves time!
Here are a few fun menu ideas:
Unconventional sandwiches: hummus and whole-wheat pita bread; falafel; low fat cheese wedges and whole grain crackers; sunflower butter or almond butter on gluten-free toast; whole grain wrap filled with vegetables and cheese or nitrate-free deli meats.
Conventional alternatives to sandwiches: dinner leftovers (meat/chicken/fish/pork with sweet potatoes or a healthy side such as quinoa or tabouleh, vegetables); leftover pizza on whole grain crust with spinach and other bite-size veggies; soup or stew.
Unconventional alternatives to sandwiches: whole grain and low sugar cereal from home in storage container (just add milk); scrambled eggs or hardboiled eggs; Greek yogurt with low-sugar granola; homemade quiche; bean based chili with chicken; ¼ to ½ cup of nuts (if allowed at your child’s school); homemade protein smoothies (frozen the night before to defrost by lunch time); bean salad.
Vegetables to eat raw, steamed, or with dip such as hummus or guacamole: cucumber slices, celery, carrots, green beans, snow peas, blanched broccoli, asparagus or cauliflower, grape tomatoes, beets, corn, salad.
Snacks: 100% all fruit leather, ¼ cup sunflower seeds, baked sweet potato chips, multigrain crackers, homemade granola bar, whole grain graham crackers, unsweetened applesauce, multigrain chips or tortilla, unsweetened dried fruit, nuts (if allowed at your child’s school), plain Greek yogurt with 1 tsp local honey, banana chips, dried peas.
Hopefully these tips will help you prepare for the upcoming days of your students’ eating needs. If you would like more individual coaching on this topic or your child has specific needs such as food allergies or food sensitivities, please call us at 713-365-9015 to set up an individual nutrition consultation with Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Licensed Professional Counselor, Danielle Mitchell.
*Some ideas from this article are adapted from material included at http://www.nutrition411.com. For other helpful nutrition resources, visit the Toddler and Kid Center tab on their website.
It is mid-summer and maybe you are thinking that any nutrition goals you had for yourself or your kids will “just have to wait” until all of the vacations, summer grill-outs, and sleep-overs for the kids are behind you. Let’s face it: most families admit that summer is a difficult time to change kids’ eating routines and food choices. In fact, it is very likely that the last time you tried to suggest something green or unpackaged for a snack or meal, your kids threw a fit or rolled their eyes. So, to avoid the energy drain and drama, you gave in to your kids’ pleas for “another snack”, “more dessert”, or their favorite fast-food drive thru pick-up.
Is there a way of out the family food fights without waiting for the school year to begin? I believe so. But don’t take it from me… Here are a few of the tips that have worked best for the parents of my elementary and teenage clients who PREVIOUSLY claimed they had a picky eater at their table:
There are no “good” or “bad” foods. Experience tells us that as soon as we hear that a food is “bad for us” we want it and if it’s “good for us” we think it’s tasteless or boring. Plus, many kids begin to associate their value as being “good” or “bad” with how mom or dad says they’re eating. Instead, it is more helpful to refer to foods as “smart, in between, or empty” when it comes to nutritional value.
Nobody has to eat anything they don’t want. I know, I know: this sounds crazy and does NOT jive with the “clean your plate” mentality that many of us had growing up. However, research has shown that it takes kids up to 10 exposures to a food (i.e., seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, spitting out, etc.) before they’ll eat and swallow the food comfortably. So, the mere presence of that food on a kids’ plate counts as an exposure. They don’t necessarily need to eat it or try it before getting up from the table. It may sound crazy, but it works!
Role model loving healthy food. If you want your kids to eat broccoli, eat broccoli… without trying to convince them of how good it tastes or manipulate them into eating it, too. Your kids are watching you and, eventually, will want to try the foods you are eating to feel grown up. If you don’t believe me, you should ask the mom who was frustrated that her kids were only eating pop-tarts for breakfast. They saw her eating a healthier version of eggs benedict with asparagus every morning and BEGGED her for some of their own.
These are just a few of many tips I teach for changing the food environment NOT just modifying the foods we eat. Until we alter the language and “rules” we use in relation to food, we keep ourselves stuck in the food battles at the dinner table and feel trapped in the fights about food types. If you are interested in more material like this, join us for our next Feeding the Kids Workshop: Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants. Click here for more details and to register. There really is freedom from this age-old battle with food for you and your children!
As summer sets in, most of us are facing the struggle to avoid tempting foods such as ice cream, good ol’ BBQ, chips with salsa, and a large handful of salted nuts. Somewhere between making a New Year’s resolution to eat healthier and starting to plan your menu for the summer BBQ with the neighbors, perhaps you have lost that motivation to prepare fresh foods. Instead, you might be feeling guilty that you ate another cookie, went back for seconds when you weren’t even hungry, or ate a large serving of the ice cream because “it was a really stressful day at the office or with the kids.” is there any freedom from the cycle of good vs. bad eating?
Absolutely. I call it mindful eating, but the concept is also well-known as intuitive eating. Most of us know what is “healthy” to eat; however, mindful eating allows us to freely consume foods that are typically less helpful for our bodies in smaller quantities and enjoy them. Mindful eating means pausing to consider the type of hunger you might be experiencing when you grab that extra snack or reach for a sugary beverage. There are many types of hunger that I challenge my clients to take notice of when they are completing their food records for their nutrition consultations. I typically encourage someone to use the following types when recording what triggered their snacking or eating a meal:
Emotion – boredom, stress, sadness, happiness, frustration, tiredness, etc.
Availability – the food was easy to grab
Hunger – it was about 3 or 4 hours since the last time you ate something
Craving – you really wanted the taste of the snack
Activity – you were doing something, such as watching TV, that makes
you want to snack
Then, we review this record and “unmask” what’s really causing those “cravings”. Finally, we determine which practical ideas would work to address that particular type of hunger instead of eating more food. For example, someone who routinely snacks because they are an “emotional eater” might set a goal to mindfully enjoy snacks seated at the table, instead of standing in the kitchen, and perhaps even honor themselves enough to eat the snack off of a beautiful china plate rather than out of the package.
This is just one exercise in mindful eating that clients (young and old, male and female) seem to benefit from. Most importantly, it unveils that hidden temptation about foods and provides us with the freedom to mindfully choose the best approach to honor our hunger! For more information on mindful eating or to schedule an individual consultation, please contact Danielle McGee RD, LD at 713-365-9015.
“Is this food good or bad?” As a dietitian, I regularly hear this question! I face the challenge of how to teach an alternative way of thinking about nutrition. Recently, I tried to explain a new concept to one of my youngest clients (a nine year old female). I asked her, “What if there were no good and bad foods. What if, instead, foods were least helpful, helpful, and most helpful?” She then rephrased what I was trying to say: “Like when my mom fills the car up at the gas station?” Initially confused, I realized she saw food as fuel and was picturing the different octane levels on the pump (such as 87, 89 & 92). I applauded her creativity!
A “fuel for the body” concept groups foods into 1) maintenance 2) enhanced, or 3) improved performance. Perhaps we don’t need rules to never eat “bad” foods and can assess how they contribute to our overall goals for life performance. Do you desire to lose weight? Are you fatigued? Are certain foods coping mechanisms? If so, maybe those chips and cookies are foods that maintain weight, energy or emotions. What if you felt freedom to eat foods that enhance energy, emotions, or weight goals? For example, a small granola bar, ½ cup of 100% all natural fruit juice, or baked pita chips with hummus substitute for your afternoon or nighttime snack. Then, consider options that might improve performance towards a healthy body weight, improved energy, and mindful eating: a handful of unsalted nuts (cashews, almonds, walnuts, etc), a cup of Greek yogurt with 1 Tbsp of honey, or a green smoothie may improve your long-term nutrition goals.
A healthy mindset about our eating habits promotes food freedom! Meal planning and dining do not have to be burdensome. If this brings you some relief, look forward to more tips on mindful eating soon.