We’ve all been told growing up that “variety is the spice of life”, this is no exception when it comes to our diet. Even as adults, it becomes harder to maintain a healthy diet when we eat the same thing often, this is no exception for children who already have a tendency to get bored and change their minds often.
Their favourite foods change frequently as well. So it’s necessary to mix things up and get more creative when it comes to what goes in their lunchbox to get them to eat. Offering variety also expands their taste experience so they are exposed to more flavours by the time they become adults (1). Some studies have also concluded that offering your kids a variety of healthy food options over time can increase their acceptance of variety. You can encourage this behaviour by setting an example and also eating a variety of food as the parent (1).
For younger children, cut the sandwiches into different shapes to add interest: for example triangles or squares, or use cookie cutters for fancier shapes. You could even use one slice of white and one slice of brown to make a ‘zebra’ sandwich or switch between bread, bagels, rolls or wraps for variety. Make it fun for them to eat.
4. Prioritise plenty of unsweetened fluids
According to some studies, there is a clear correlation between sweetened beverages and children's weight problems. Even one or two sweet drinks a day can cause a problem. This is very alarming because SA has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world. This is due to the fact that sweet drinks have been found to contain a lot of calories without the benefits of making kids full after they consume them. This means they’d still need to consume more food and snacks to get the feeling of fullness on top of drinking sweet drinks.
So it’s important to prioritise the consumption of water, milk and of other sugar-free drinks for children. Fruit juice and smoothies also count towards your fluid consumption, but they contain a higher concentration of fruit sugars that can damage teeth, so limit these drinks to a combined total of 150ml a day.
A recent Harvard study also found that children who drank fewer sugary drinks in the home for a period of one year gained less weight compared to those who did not change their sugary-drink intake. So encourage your children to drink more water by packing water bottles in their lunch bags daily, this can also get them into a great and healthy habit of drinking water regularly.
5. Swap out sweet treats like chocolate bars with fruits
Kids don’t always like healthier options, so add either fresh or dried fruit options to replace their processed sweet treats. Kids can have sweets but cut it down to a minimum, as a treat every now and again instead of part of their daily diet. Remember, it’s all about building healthy lifelong habits.
6. Cut back on fatty foods for greener and fresher options
Adding some of their favourite veggies like carrot sticks, cucumber, and peppers all count towards their 5 A Day, and also include dip options like hummus. It would be easier to add the veggies inside sandwiches along with reduced-fat spread options and lean protein like chicken or turkey. Make sure to avoid any heavily processed food options.
7. Cut down on unhealthy snacks
Most parents often include a side snack in their kid’s backpacks, and that’s fine. Snacking is not a bad word, some studies show that snacking during the school day improves both mood and motivation, and may impact concentration. Snacks may help children maintain performance during times of high mental demand, like when taking an exam or making a class presentation (1). But it’s pivotal to keep an eye out for when, how much and what they are snacking on instead.
Try to substitute things like crisps with healthier alternatives. Crisps are not meant to be harmful in moderation, but try to reduce the number of times you include them in their lunchbox and swap for snacks like homemade plain popcorn, nuts, berries, unsweetened yoghurt, or homemade baked treats that are made with less sugar instead. Remember that even though kids may have a preference for unhealthier snacks, they are also easily impressionable. If you get them into the habit of eating healthier, they are more likely to get used to and choose those options over time. Crips can be given to them as a treat every now and again or on special occasions.
It’s also important to make sure that kids are not snacking too close to main meal times like lunch and dinner since they might get full from their snacks, or before bedtime because that can interrupt their sleeping pattern.
But more than anything, make eating healthy a fun and collaborative activity for the whole family, get your kids involved in shopping for and preparing their lunch boxes. It’s also vital to understand that kids do by watching what’s being demonstrated in the home, thus parents need to lead by example. If you want them to take on healthy eating habits, you should also model that behaviour by eating a healthy diet. This will make acceptance of healthier options easier.
We hope this list helps eliminate some of the stress that comes with having kids return to physical classrooms.