Of all the battles parents help their kids fight, the one against poor nutrition might be one of the most difficult.
Unhealthy choices are just about everywhere you look, including at school, unfortunately, in the form of high-fat lunches and sugar-laden vending machines. Making it worse is that bad food choices are often cheap and attached to some clever, almost irresistible marketing campaign designed to not just appeal to your children’s taste buds, but also their sense of being cool and fitting in with their peers.
So what’s a parent to do?
Maybe you can’t produce a slick TV commercial starring a fun, hyperactive cartoon character, but the good news is you still can have an influence on your child’s diet. What’s important to remember that unhealthy choices are just that: choices.
Give your children healthy choices and they’re more likely to go that route. Set a good example by cooking healthy meals at home, and putting fruits and vegetables on the counter for easy access. In short, if you don’t buy unhealthy snacks, your kids can’t eat them.
Snacks that emphasize on-the-go nutrition
It’s important to keep those healthy choices available away from home, too. With school back in session, along with extracurricular activities and just general socializing, kids are likely to be out of the house quite a bit, so here are some ideas for lunches and snacks that emphasize on-the-go nutrition:
Fruit: What’s magical about fruit is it’s a true exception to that age-old complaint of why only things that are bad for us taste good. Apples, oranges, grapes, strawberries, pears and countless others are among the most flavorful items around. Whether on their own or mixed in with yogurt or cereal, even the most junk food-addicted among us can find a way to enjoy what is rightfully known as nature’s candy.
Granola: I’m talking about the low-sugar, high-fiber bars here. Try to avoid the ones loaded with chocolate or bits of candy. Done right, this is a quick, easy and tasty way to add often-overlooked nutrients to your child’s daily intake. Other good ideas include crumbling the granola bar into a yogurt cup, or assembling a trail mix using the bar and helpings of dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, bananas) and pretzels.
Hummus: Dips are a great way to sell veggies to an unwilling audience. Carrots, celery, peppers, cucumbers, and snap peas are just some of the healthy treats that become much more agreeable when paired with hummus. Made from chickpeas, hummus comes in many flavors, but also can be created relatively easy at home. And if you include your child in the process, you get the added benefit of together time and giving your child ownership over his nutrition.
Wraps: Using a whole wheat wrap (assuming your child isn’t averse to gluten, of course), it’s easy enough to fill the inside with something delicious like cream cheese, or perhaps peanut butter and jelly. Spinach and feta cheese also is a popular combo. And if your child is a little worried about explaining what he’s eating to some skeptical friends, it’s easy enough for him to just pretend it’s a burrito.
String cheese: Too much cheese isn’t good, but depending on the kind you buy, a single serving of this favorite snack can supply up to 20 percent of your child’s recommended daily calcium intake. It can also be paired with some deli meat — preferably turkey or ham — for a protein-rich treat.
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has primary care offices throughout southeast Wisconsin, including Delafield Pediatrics and Pewaukee Pediatrics. Find a pediatrician near you.
Learn more about Renee Szafir, MD.