Every year, as the summer comes to a close, children and parents all over the world prepare for the return to school. The school days can be long and stressful for kids, impacting their health in various ways. This, on top of our desires to have them function optimally on a behavioral and intellectual level necessitates that we pay attention to their diets even more so at this time, than any other. In this article, I will share with you 13 practical tips to make going back and optimally nourishing your kids a success.
For most children, going back to school means spending the better part of each day outside of the home. We love our kids and want the best for them. We know they do better in school on all levels when bellies are full of nutritious food. So when it comes time to send them off for the school day, what will you be packing in their lunch bag?
This is a question that has to be taken very seriously if you want your children to enjoy optimal performance in their academics, athletics, behavior, and health. We know today that artificial, processed food is linked to increased behavior problems such as ADD/ADHD, increased infections, decreased mental clarity and focus, increased fatigue, poor stamina and vitality, increased weight problems, increased skin and allergy problems and the list goes on!
Therefore, the nourishment you provide for your kids’ school day matters, and matters a lot. This is an area where we as parents must re-examine our priorities and align our lifestyles in conducive ways for supporting the growing and developing needs of our children. There is no room here for laziness, rushed, or hectic routines. Your health and wellbeing is impacted by such approaches, and so is your children’s. By paying attention to optimal nourishment and feeding habits, your set a good example for your children and provide them with a foundation for nutritional success. When you take your family’s health and eating habits seriously, you help to positively transform our society. It is so worth it; your kids are so worth it.
Back to School Nutrition Tips
The following 13 tips, if applied, will help you and your kids optimize their eating routines, develop positive nourishment habits, and effectively support their physical, emotional, and mental health needs.
1. Bag the Lunch, Not Buy
For starters, do not send children to school with money to buy their own lunches. Most cafeteria food is extremely processed and still based on white flours, sugars, unhealthy fats, pasteurized dairy, deli meats and empty calories. Whole, natural food options are few and far between, with most kids not being able to choose them for themselves anyway. This is also more costly in the long run for you as a parent.
2. Ensure Enough Food
Kids will often feel like they need to buy from a vending machine, eat from their friends, or go for cafeteria or fast food, if they don’t have enough food, or food they like with them. Be sure to pack enough for their lunch and normally 2 snacks. Make them aware of what they are getting and involved in the decision making process as outlined in the tip below.
3. Communication Is King
Communicate with your kids about the food choices you are making for them. Get them involved in helping you prepare their food. With an array of healthy choices, be sure to give them the choice to pick what they would like. For example, “which 2 fruits would you like for school tomorrow?”, “Which vegetables would you like in your sandwich?” This makes kids more accountable for their choices and much more likely to eat them, as they feel more empowered. Whether you have little ones or teens, communication is key in making sure that the best food choices are made. Teach them about the artificial colors in candy, or the chemicals in processed food, they are more open to these things than we often give them credit for. Remember too that kids learn best by example, so instead of lecturing what they should eat, teach by example based on what groceries you bring into the home, the meals you make and food you eat yourself.
4. Routines Are Required
We all know how hectic mornings can be, especially if you are trying to wake up your kids, get them ready, get yourself ready and in the midst of it all prepare a good breakfast and lunches for everyone. Often breakfasts are rushed and composed of milk and cereal, neither of which are optimally healthy choices. Lunches are thrown together in simplest ways using breads, spreads, meat and cheese slices; again none of which are optimally healthy choices. The best time to make high quality lunches is in the evenings. Get into a routine where perhaps after dinner, before the dishes are done, the lunches are made. This helps you have more time, be more creative and allow the kids to get involved, while leaving the mornings to be focused on making optimally healthy breakfasts.
5. Ditch the drinking boxes
Drinking or juice boxes are made of paperboard and normally lined with an aluminum foil. The typical composition is six layers of paper accounting for about 24% of the product, about 70% polyethylene, and about 6% aluminum foil. Polyethylene is a suspected human carcinogen and aluminum is a neurotoxin. This alone should deter us from purchasing these or giving them especially to our kids, regardless of what fluid is in them. To add to this, they come with plastic straws, which kids often chew on, adding on another health risk as we know today that plastics are generally all harmful in one way or another.
As to what is inside, definitely nothing that we can consider optimally healthy, no matter what front box claims state. The drinks may be completely artificial or juice-based. Even if they claim to be 100% juice, they come from concentrates, are pasteurized, and may include added preservatives, sweeteners, colors, flavors, and are often enhanced with synthetic vitamins. A juice box is not an excellent source of vitamin C, real fruit is.
6. Soda is So Out
It is impossible to talk about optimal health and have the word soda in the same sentence. By now anyone who is even remotely interested in health, knows that soda is plain and simple a waste of our health and money. The last thing we would therefore want to do is give it to our kids. Soda is highly acidic, increasing the likelihood for all sorts of near and distant future diseases. It contains harmful sweeteners, like high-fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners, as well as artificial colors and flavors. It is a source of empty calories, being completely nutrient-deficient, and simply adding to the obesity problem. Your kids may have been used to this substance in the past, but why not start this school year off right and wean them off of, one of the worst drinks possible for them.
7. Water Them For Best Health
We know we need to water our plants if we want them to grow well, and yet we do not take giving water to our children often as seriously. Juice, soda, milk and other drinks do not take the place of water. Normally children who are used to consuming sweetened beverages only, lose their healthy relationship with water. Humans of all ages must have water. Not only do kids today not need the extra, empty calories of other beverages, but they also don’t need the health risks that come with them. The more we establish a healthy relationship with water for our kids, the more they will come to depend on this substance as their primary fluid of choice.
Water can be easily packed for school lunches today, thanks to the wide variety of sizes and colors of stainless steel bottles. Having some filtration system at home, from which you can refill their water bottles is the best way to go. Giving them a refillable bottle also allows them to refill at school if they need more and teaches them environmentally sustainable habits, while saving you money. Remember to avoid all plastic bottles, whether refillable or one-time use, especially for kids.
8. Be-Friend the Fruits
Nothing beats a healthy snack like a fruit. Send your kids off to school each day with at least 2 fruit servings. Vary the fruits often so they get the most benefits from the variety and remember to get them to choose, thereby empowering them and their decision making skills. To substitute for artificial candy, opt for dried fruits. Dried apricots (unsulfured) make great gummy-like candy, while homemade, sun-dried strawberries provide a delicious red candy-like snack that is all natural and kissed by Mother Nature.
9. Veg In the Vegetables
Vegetable sticks or slices make easy lunch and snack ideas that add nutrient-rich foods to your child’s day. Apart from the carrot or celery sticks, get creative and bold with other vegetables. From kholorabi slices to zucchini sticks or sweet peas in their pods to fresh fava beans, vegetables offer a wide variety of choices for us, sure to please all taste buds. You can enrich the vegetable experience by making your kids a homemade hummus or cashew sauce to dip the veggies in.
10. Bring On The Brownies
Yes, you heard that correctly, brownies; but not just any brownies. Instead of various processed cookies, bars and doughnuts, there is a way kids can have their sweets and treats, enjoying delicious tastes and feeling like they fit in. All it takes are some simple ingredients and a few minutes of your time at home. Today, just by having some nuts and dates or raisins, you can make a wide assortment of delicious, healthy and nutritious snacks. If your child’s school must stay nut free, simply use seeds like hemp, sesame or sunflower. Blending a nut/seed and date/raisin combo in a 1:1 ratio using your food processor, can make you various bars, cakes, balls and cookies in minutes, that the kids will readily enjoy. Flavor them with raw cacao or carob powder to make sensational chocolate combinations! These treats are optimally healthy as they are free of refined sugar and do not contain any unhealthy fats, artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.
11. Optimize the Leftovers
The easiest way to make lunches is simply to pack for everyone some of the leftovers from dinner. By cooking double each night, this makes you 2 meals in 1. And unlike popular belief, most meals do not have to be heated, but can be easily enjoyed at room temperature. This way you get to put the best quality, natural, whole food ingredients into a home-cooked meal in the evening for dinner, while they also get to be enjoyed the next day by everyone in the family for lunch. This saves you time and ensures that the whole family has a natural, nutritiously sound meal the next day outside of the home.
12. Mind the Bread Matters
As sandwiches are still the most common lunch bag food, what kind of a sandwich you make matters a lot when it comes to your child’s optimal health. The starting point for any sandwich, whether traditional, a wrap or pita, is the type of bread you choose. White bread is not fit for average health, never mind optimal health, which leaves us examining the brown breads. We have to understand that most bread is highly processed and most whole wheat options today do not use 100% whole wheat, and on top of that have additives like sugars, unhealthy oils, extra gluten and preservatives just to name a few. Thus choosing an optimally healthy bread is no easy task. The best option is a sprouted grain bread called Ezekiel bread. The next best option is something based on spelt or rye, that only includes whole flours, hopefully some real whole grains, no added sugars, fats or preservatives. If your kids are picky eaters, again remember tip #3 about proper communication and the fact that you are the parent in charge. They cannot eat what does not exist in the house, thus the ingredients you make available to them matter the most.
13. Dodge the Deli Meats
We know today without a shadow of a doubt that processed meats, like cold cuts, deli cuts or luncheon slices are some of the most harmful foods out there. Aside from the unhealthy fat and sodium content, the preservatives used like sodium nitrite have been linked to various cancers. If you want to give your kids some kind of a meat for their school lunch, make sure it is something like slices of a real (organic & free range) home cooked chicken, or a chicken breast, or other real, unprocessed meat.
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