Schools started and the everlasting concern of most parents is back: What can I make for my kids as a school snack that they will like, that can be easily carried in a lunch box, and that is -ideally- healthy? You will find numerous recipes both at the good living and at the kids’ section of my website. In fact, I hope that those of you who have subscribed to my newsletter can see -every week- a complete menu with a variety of recipes that the whole family can try and that can make your everyday life easier.
What concerns me the most is how we, as adults, can have a positive impact on kids and on their dietary habits – even slightly.
Kids’ nutritional needs can differ greatly and that depends on their age and on several other factors such as sex, genetics, and physical activity. Kids are firstly affected and learn to follow their family’s dietary habits. When they grow up, they are mostly influenced by their peers, their teachers, but also from advertisements and media. The only thing for sure is that education and following a balanced lifestyle is something that should start early. This education will practically lead to adults who follow a balanced lifestyle and who have knowledge regarding health issues. Moreover, they will know what a balanced eating plan can include and for what reason (apart from having fun with our friends) exercise is beneficial.
In my opinion, there are 5 things I consider important to pay attention to in order to get the right message across. These are the following…
1. Discover the healthy alternatives of the school cafeteria! Based on studies that have been conducted, it seems that snacks often consumed by kids at school are practically “empty” calories since they are not nutritionally balanced and they do not offer them the vitamins and the nutrients to cover their everyday needs. Visit the school cafeteria along with your kid and look at the options it offers together, explaining -of course- why it is better to prefer some specific snacks or foods than others.
2. Teach your kids the importance of home-packed food and of being the ones preparing their meals. Knowing precisely what is in the food we eat, helps us better control the quantities and the ingredients we use. In that way, even if they want to add an ingredient that is not so healthy, you can explain to them that we should consume it reasonably or prefer it – make it in its healthiest alternative.
3. Add some salad, vegetables, and fruits to the lunch box. I think most of you know how important it is to eat vegetables, salads, and fruits in our everyday life. However, kids will learn and understand that importance only when they see you consuming them daily, and when they see you giving them the proper attention!
4. Desserts should be consumed reasonably. The fact that we follow a balanced diet does not necessarily mean that desserts are excluded. You can simply try healthier sweet recipes which are based on more nutrient-dense ingredients that benefit the body. Some examples are peanut butter, almond butter, honey, agave syrup, molasses, nuts, and dried fruits. Consuming desserts reasonably is another important lesson for your kids!
5. Sandwiches and tortillas are snacks that can become healthier! They are a good and very easy solutions - we just need to choose the healthy alternatives. So, teach your kids to prefer whole-wheat products, and instead of mayonnaise or ketchup, to add several different combinations of hummus, avocado dip, and spreads based on yogurt. Instead of some kind of deli meat, add a little feta, anthotyro cheese, or mozzarella and many veggies or even a falafel! In that way, your sandwich or wrap will definitely be both nutrient-rich and filling!
So, schools may have started but that doesn’t mean that you as parents should worry about what to cook every day. The only thing you need to do is a few tests to see what your kids like, organize and make a nutrient rich eating plan. All the rest will simply become good habits!
This article was written in collaboration with Kitchen Lab’s Sports Nutritionist Anna Maria Volanaki, MSc, BDA, SENr.
*The above information is based on published research findings.