You spent all summer encouraging healthy eating habits in your school age children. What happens when they return to school? As summer comes to a close and school is again on the horizon, you are probably in the midst of the back-to-school routine by buying new clothes, books, and supplies. But, does your routine also include how to plan for healthy nutrition for your child when they return to school? Whether you are planning for nutrition or not, let’s review some tips on how to keep them on track.

Breakfast is essential for growing children. Studies show that eating a healthy breakfast can help children excel in many areas including attendance, higher test scores, better concentration, solving problems with more ease, better muscle coordination, and decreased hunger related stomach aches. Make sure your child’s breakfast is healthy and nutritious whether your child eats breakfast at home or at school.

If your child’s school provides lunch, you should get in the habit of reviewing your child’s weekly lunch menu with them. This will enable you to help your child choose healthy options. Make sure the choices include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat or fat-free dairy at every meal. The National School Lunch Program requires that school meals include a certain amount, of calories, fat, saturated fat, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. However, these requirements can transform into unhealthy options such as chicken nuggets and tater tots. It is also important to keep in mind that even though the food being offered provides the requirements, your child may not be choosing to fill their plate with all the options, thus missing out on essential nutrients.

If you pack your child’s lunch, get them involved in the decision making of what to pack. Bring them grocery shopping with you and allow them to choose healthy options. When children are involved in the decision making process, they are more likely to eat what is actually packed rather than trading an apple for a friends candy bar. If your child is involved in after school activities be sure to provide them with a healthy snack, such as sliced fruit.

Snacking while in school can be a problem that can quickly turn into a bad habit. Inquire with your child’s school as to what their snacking policy is. Are they afforded scheduled snacks throughout the day? Is there a vending machine that your child will have access to? Packing healthy snacks or discussing vending machine options that may be on the healthier side can help tackle this issue.

If you are unhappy with the school’s food offerings and snack policies, then it is important to get involved with PTA. Involvement can lead to promoting nutrition awareness through policy changes, as well as education of teachers, parents, staff, and administrators.

Communication with your child is important. This enables you to educate your child on how to make healthy choices, while also learning what your child’s likes and dislikes are. In the learning process, you can suggest healthy options that fit into their ‘likes’ category. Keep in mind that healthy habits built during childhood can carry into adulthood and last a lifetime. It is important to set good examples at home.

While you may have better control over your child’s eating habits at home, your child’s eating habits can run rampant at school. School presents many opportunities for your child to engage in unhealthy options with class birthdays, fundraisers, midday snacks, and the ability to trade food with classmates. This is why it is important to provide balance at home. If you know your child is exposed to unhealthy options on a regular basis, make sure to provide healthy options at home.

Your child’s back-to-school nutrition not only needs to be planned for, but also maintained on a regular basis throughout the school year. Keep in mind that there will be periods of success and periods of disappointment, but remembering these nutrition tips can help maintain an overall positive outlook. Also keep in mind that your child is just that, a child, and should be allowed to behave like a child every now and then. While remembering balance, let your child enjoy a cookie every now and then, but balance it with a piece of fruit.

Author's Bio: 

Bonnie R. Giller offers tailored nutrition and health solutions for the most challenging medical issues such as weight loss, diabetes management and gastrointestinal conditions. She helps chronic dieters get off the diet roller coaster and finally get the body they love.

Bonnie is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. She is also a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor with extensive training in intuitive eating.

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