According to the CDC, the prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 years increased from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.6% in 2008. This rise has led many advocates to focus their energies on improving nutritional conditions in schools, including reforming cafeteria lunches and eliminating junk food in vending machines, according to a press release.
“Parents shouldn’t underestimate the influence they can have on their child’s eating habits, even while they’re at school,” Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, associate clinical professor of pediatrics and director of the nutrition clinic at the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, stated in the release.
A registered dietitian who advises children and their families, Ayoob offers seven practical tips that can help parents encourage their kids to eat well during and after school including:
- Review school lunch menus. Find out what your child’s school is offering for lunch. Some schools make their menus available ahead of time to students and their parents. Some even post their menus online. Encourage your school to sign up to one of these online portals. Some are free for schools to join and provide nutritional information on meals;
- Send lunch replacements or supplements. Provide healthy foods you know your kids will eat so they can have something satisfying, even when the school lunch is disappointing. Durable foods that will hold up well in a backpack include apples, string cheese or trail mix;
- Find out when your child eats lunch. Find out when your child is eating and plan accordingly. If they eat early in the day, be sure to provide healthy snacks for the afternoon so they do not use the vending machines or pick up junk food to eat on their way home from school;
- Involve your kids in making lunch. Pick 1 day a week that you prepare lunch at home for your kids to take to school and involve your children in the preparation. For younger kids, be sure to make the packaging fun, too – let them pick out a lunch box they like, or put their fruit in colorful containers;
- Provide a good breakfast. Make sure kids start the day with a quality meal. While standard breakfast fare – whole grain cereals, milk and fruit – provide a good start, try to include some extra protein as well – a hard-boiled egg, yogurt or cheese;
- Restrict their funds. Kids with money to burn in their pockets often spend it on junk food; and
- Set a good example at home. The best way to encourage your kids to establish good eating habits is to walk the talk.