Parents and students are never busier than at the beginning of a new school year. They’re running around, getting used to a new schedule. Often this includes sleeping less and working more. On top of everything else, parents try to keep their kids eating healthy foods. It can be a struggle. Here are ways the whole family can eat healthier, even amidst a chaotic schedule.
Plan your meals
On your day off, plan the menu for the week. Focus on breakfast, lunch and dinner at first rather than snacks. Consider who’s home, and when meals can be enjoyed together as a family. Search for easier recipes that incorporate plenty of fruits and vegetables. Do this at the same time you plan out your family’s weekly activity calendar. Don’t forget to factor in after-school commitments.
Enjoy a balanced diet
Most experts agree that we need at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Think about this as you plan your family’s meals. Limit sugar, sodium and processed ingredients. Remember that portions change and fluctuate as we get older. And kids often need to try something many times before they like it. Nutritionists can serve as a guide if your family needs assistance because of allergies, medical conditions and other issues.
Don’t skip breakfast
A healthy breakfast provides a quality start to the day. Grains, nuts and fruits set the foundation for a steady flow of energy. Egg whites, oatmeal or yogurt and blueberries with some granola on top prevents overeating later in the day. Breakfast also improves memory and attention to detail.
Make a grocery list
Write what you need from the store before you leave the house and then stick to the list. Consider the snacks you want to buy. Avoiding junk food is easy if you don’t purchase any in the first place. Make substitutions. Rather than potato chips and dip, purchase veggies and hummus instead. Once you get to the store, read labels and compare calories. Choose items with less sodium and zero trans fats. Shopping is your opportunity to make healthy choices. Therefore, avoid impulsive buys and processed or pre-packaged meals. Another way to do this is to shop online and have groceries delivered.
Prep meals every week
Making meals ahead of time results in better portion control when it’s time to eat. Preppers also use healthier ingredients. Avoid the stress, and stress-eating, that comes from waiting until the last minute to put a meal together. When you’re hungry, that’s the worst time to go shopping or make dinner. The rush leads to overeating and choosing convenience before nutrition.
Plan ahead for snacks
Fill up zip lock bags with dried fruit, almonds and popcorn to relieve hunger pangs between meals. Set aside containers in the refrigerator with hard-boiled eggs, cheese, crackers and grapes. Grab and go snacks help everyone avoid spur-of-moment and often unhealthy choices. Kids are also less likely to overeat at lunch or dinner if they aren’t too hungry.
Ask your kids for help
Give children nutritious choices and ask them to help you decide what to serve. This is especially helpful when making their lunches for school. When brown-bagging it, their buy-in reduces the chance they’ll give or throw away what you’re packing. It saves you money and puts it to better use.
Promote healthy stress reducers
Is your child feeding their feelings? Encourage them to discuss their struggles and experiences with you or a therapist. Incorporating good quality comfort food into your weekly diet is a fine idea. At the same time, help your kids develop healthy coping skills. This includes writing in a journal, meditating, taking long walks or other forms of exercise.
Help your kids understand the value of eating healthier. For instance, talk about the obesity epidemic. Have older relatives made questionable choices and are now suffering as a result? How can your family break that cycle and live healthier lives? Ask your kids for their thoughts. If they’re eating lunch at school, encourage them to self-regulate. They can choose the salad bar a few times per week. Or balance out pizza days with meatless Mondays and incorporate more veggies.
On average it takes about ten minutes for the message “I’m full, stop eating” to travel from our stomachs to our brains. Take small bites and chew thoroughly. Try to schedule at least a half hour (or more) for dinner each night so no one feels rushed.
Pack a lunch the night before
Cut down on morning chaos. This helps make the day easier for everyone.
Sodas, energy drinks and juices are filled with sugar and empty calories. Even sugar-free options come with artificial flavors and colors. Indulge in a “treat drink” once in a while. For example, some kids look forward to chocolate milk or reduced-sugar iced tea at special occasions. However, for everyday drinking, water is the best choice. Water keeps kids hydrated and flushes out toxins their growing kidneys don’t need. It also aids digestion and keeps them regular.
Make it fun
Break up the monotony and enjoy a little dinnertime variety. Visit your favorite restaurant for in-person dining or takeout once a week. Enjoy a picnic in the backyard or nearby park. If dad usually puts the meals together, dedicate one night for the kids to cook something.
It’s not just about coffee. Caffeine can also be found in soda and tea. Older people credit caffeine with improving memory and providing energy. However, for growing bodies and minds, it’s not the best option. Caffeine also works against what water provides – hydration. Active kids must stay hydrated. They don’t need a boost to their heart or blood pressure. If your children feel tired, revisit their sleep schedule instead.
Monitor social media
Look for signs that your children may need help dealing with the stress of a new school year. Review any posts indicating a reliance on food, alcohol or drugs. None of these are conducive to healthy living. Such posts can also indicate a more serious problem.
In short, a new routine and schedule can be disruptive, but it can also be a time to start better habits. Take a moment now to rethink your family’s eating. Try some of these ideas to eat healthier in ways that will benefit you and your kids all year long.