Recently I was asked by a parent if I had any suggestions for lunches that could be easily packed and taken to school. What a great question! This got me thinking about the importance of well-balanced, healthy meals. Strangely enough, while this has been on my mind, I began taking a series of workshops on the importance of nutrition in developing bodies. Here are some of the things that I have learned: (I got some of this information from the CDC website at www.cdc.gov.)
- Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years.
- The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008.
- Healthy eating in childhood and adolescence is important for proper growth and development and can prevent health problems such as obesity, dental caries, iron deficiency, and osteoporosis, and depression.
- The preschool years are a critical time to introduce and encourage healthy eating because early exposure to healthful foods helps children establish good eating habits that carry into adulthood.
- Children establish food preferences and dietary habits during the first six years of life. (Birch, 1998)
Considering these facts, I think that the last two points are the most important and hopeful for the future. As parents and adults who care for and love our children, we hold the power to teach our children how to think about and choose healthy foods. I know how picky children can be when choosing and eating food. This is actually a normal developmental stage that young children go through. But, to combat this frustrating phase we can do several things:
- Model good eating habits and eat what your child eats (I think this is MOST important)
- Make trying new foods fun
- Keep offering new foods!
- Offer a variety of healthy food options
- Listen to your children about their needs
- Let your child choose food
- Teach your child about new foods
Remember, if your child chooses not to eat something, they won’t starve! Offer a different, similar option. Or, consider that they may not be hungry. If your child says no to carrots five times in a row, don’t get discouraged and label them a hater of carrots…. save that label till they are 47! Seriously, it may be that the 6th, 7th, or 8th time you offer them carrots they’ll eat them all and ask for more!
Here is a list of some healthy, well-balanced lunch and snack options for children and adults. Please keep in mind that in order to create a well-balanced meal, the five food groups are represented. They are fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy. And remember, when putting together a meal or snack, try to stay away from processed foods.
- Salmon salad wrap with lettuce and tomato, plain yogurt with frozen blueberries on top (the blueberries will thaw by the time lunch is served)
- Chicken and rice soup in a thermos with apples slices (with skin on) and cheddar cheese slices
- Black beans and rice with queso fresca or feta cheese, fresh salsa and tortilla chips
- Almond butter and strawberry jam on whole wheat bread with pea pods.
***Special thanks to Ilyse Simon for help writing this post.***