Healthy Eating for Back to School
Hard to believe it’s back to school time already; as of April 30, 87% of California’s public schools (not including charter schools) were offering some form of in-person instruction (1).
What will the school year bring in terms of what our children are eating when they’re back in the classroom?
Prior to Covid, more than 40% of U.S. kids brought their own food to school, but there have been very few studies of what kids had in their lunchboxes (2).
In one of the few studies conducted, most of the foods were “pre-packaged, salty snack foods and sugary desserts, with minimal fruit or vegetables.” (3)
Given that 61% of U.S. adults report undesired weight changes since the COVID-19 pandemic began, due to a reported “stress, lack of exercise, unhealthy changes in eating habits, and increased alcohol consumption”, where does that leave the mindset with which we prepare food for our kids and send them on their way to school?
Are we taking the small amount of time to set them up with balanced energy, strong mental focus and an ability to enjoy their education?
Here’s the good news: while some opted to not so healthy means of dealing with the stress of Covid, there were still a good percentage of Americans (5) who choose to make healthier eating choices, cook more at home and focus more on the silver linings.
More time spent as a family, cooking and eating together, not only can create more opportunities to bond as a family unit, its also far more cost effective versus dining out or ordering takeaway (6).
And now that kids are going back to school in person, we can continue along with the healthy habits that many have adopted during quarantine.
For moms that feel like over time, they’d become short order cooks, creating unity in the household about what everyone’s eating is yet one more win; no more making two, three, four or even more separate meals for each person sitting around the table.
While it’s far more challenging to make broad changes with older kids compared to toddlers or infants, it’s still possible to make gradual shifts that everyone can be on board with, so long as mom and dad, or whomever the parental figure (or figures) may be, are consistent and considerate.
Below are the top five tips that’ve proven time and time again to be most effective for getting, and keeping, kids to choose healthier foods both at home, and away:
- Talk the talk yourself. If you’re asking your kids not to reach for cookies, crackers and other packaged items, but you’ve still got them in the house and you’re still eating them, it’s not going to fly. Don’t fool yourself by thinking you can sneak them in; they’re watching everything! Adding a sneaky element can not only create a hurdle for them to choose wisely when it comes to healthy options, it can add fuel to the fire for any potential food / eating behaviors. Best bet: just toss it! The whole household will be better off for it.
- Walk the walk, too. Walking is quite likely the most undervalued and underestimated means of physical activity; it’s something we can all do, for free, with no special equipment (shoes are handy but not essential) and when we move as a family, we create a beautiful opportunity to talk, share ideas and come together. And studies show that when we move, we make better food choices (7).
- Lead with creativity. Rather than telling your seven year old who loves pizza with extra cheese, who you know is sensitive to gluten and dairy, that she can never have pizza again, slowly introduce better options and focus on how delicious they are. Get her to help in the preparation, too! Finding a great, DIY cauliflower crust recipe that she can roll her sleeve up to help you make and then asking her to choose her three favorite veggies that you offer to place on top, allows her the chance to feel empowered and creative and to focus on what she is creating and then enjoying, rather than simply removing something in what can feel like a punitive measure.
- Focus on how good health feels. Whether you’ve been beating yourself up about how you’re still carrying extra baby weight even though your youngest is 8, or you’re pining for your days in high school when you wore a certain size or weighed a certain weight, keeping yourself in that spin will only accomplish one thing: keeping you in a spin. Accept where you are right now and let the role you have as a mom, or dad, or caregiver be the impetus to make the best choices you can; your kids’ futures depend on it.
- Keep it fun, and simple. There are an infinite number of blogs, cookbooks, YouTube, Instagram and Tik Tok accounts to follow with likely billions of recipes. If cooking is already your thing, all of the above might be great places to find versions of a healthier Fettuccine Alfredo, or a short cut for Boeuf Bourguignon. If not, keeping a simple approach such as going to your local farmer’s market and choosing three veggies and three proteins, is a far more doable plan which will keep you from overwhelm and fast track you to fun in the kitchen.
Even if less than healthy choices around food and exercises seemed to predominate over the past year and a half, there’s no time like the present to begin making changes little by little now.
Happy, healthy eating!