With a new school year beginning this last week and with so many families being busier than ever, I’d like to offer some ideas to help start the school year off on a healthy foot!
Encourage family dinners together where children can learn good eating habits by example from their parents or caregivers. When eating at home, include everyone in the planning and preparing of meals — this can be an easy and fun way to get dinner on the table. To help decrease eating out, enlist everyone to help you plan your shopping list and brainstorm future dinner ideas.
To prevent overeating, avoid eating in front of a computer or television screen. Eating while occupied doesn’t allow anyone to actually take note of what they’re doing. And let’s face it, who sits in front of their favorite cartoon with a bag of baby carrots?
Decreasing the visual and physical availability of foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients, such as cookies, chips and candy, is a good plan. Making eye contact with these types of foods when you’re hungry is enough to soften even the strongest resolve. Additionally, if it’s not immediately available you can’t eat it! Having a healthier food selection at hand will encourage more balanced eating when hunger hits between meals. Stock your refrigerator with fresh fruit, yogurt, and precut vegetables. Keep shelf-stable snacks like raisins, nuts, and rice cakes in your cupboards. Having healthy foods readily available should also help discourage children (and adults) from searching for food due to boredom or habit.
Take an active role in food choices outside the home. Ask your school-age child what they ate for lunch at school. You might be surprised to find that they may have traded their lunch away or even skipped eating altogether. Find out what the school is serving and talk about it with your kids. If they don’t like what the school is serving, help them to prepare a sack lunch that they will enjoy eating — one that is also healthier for them. Sending a sack lunch once in a while is a great way to know what’s going into your child.
Encourage physical activity whenever possible. A good rule I recommend is for every minute a child is allowed to play video games or watch TV, they must spend two minutes doing something physical. And, they must earn the time before they can spend it.
Helping our kids learn to balance calories in with calories out is a valuable lesson that will help prevent a myriad of health problems later in life. With childhood obesity on the rise, it’s never too late to start living a healthier lifestyle.
Mary is a clinical dietitian at Banner Churchill Community Hospital and consultant for Pershing General Hospital. Your nutrition questions are welcome--send questions to Mary C. Koch, R.D. in care of this newspaper.