The poster to the left really does say it all as it relates to nutrition for kids.
Get them to eat real food. Fruits, veggies, meats, whole grains, natural dairy products and water.
Honest, nutritious REAL food.
If only it were that simple!
Especially at that frightful, stress-filled time of year that kids dread and parents THINK they’re happy to see coming.
When schedules change and kids give up the libertine eating habits of summer.
I’m talking, of course, about back to school time!
New morning routines can mean even less time to get real food into the kiddos before school. If you don’t pack their lunch, they are at the mercy of whatever “nutrition” means in your school district.
Add busy afternoon sports and activity schedules to this mix and nutrition for your kids can become a real nightmare. If you’re not careful, they could end up relying on fast food, processed foods and pseudo-foods. Yuck!
So I’m going to share with you some “real world” back-to-school nutrition tips for your kids.
Let’s start with a basic: breakfast.
I hear from parents all the time that “my kid doesn’t get up early enough to eat breakfast.” If your kids are older, say high school age, they might be in charge of their own alarm and schedule times, as well as able to stay up later. These can cause some time crunches when we’re talking about teens, who seem to love late night texting and sleeping until noon (if we let them.)
For younger kids, well, we’re in charge. If we want them up in time for breakfast, they will be. Or at least, they SHOULD be. Should is a really big word, though…
So here’s a few suggestions.
1.Know what breakfast foods your kids like. I’d love every one of my youth athletes to eat eggs. They are a powerhouse food for athletes and non-athletes alike. But not every teen or pre-teen likes eggs. I get it. Since I want my kids to get a balanced breakfast including a solid protein source, I want to make sure they know what those sources are. Eggs, cottage cheese and Greek yogurt are great choices.You may even want to opt for a breakfast smoothie. I prefer JayLab Pro Protein Powder. Theirs is the protein powder I recommend to my athletes and weight loss clients alike. If you’re looking for an excellent plant-based protein powder, I’d recommend Orgain Plant-Based Protein Powder. You can get it here:
Orgain Plant-based Protein Powder (Chocolate)
Orgain Plant-based Protein Powder (Vanilla)
Whole grain toast, bread, rolls or muffins are a great part of that healthy breakfast, too. Obviously fruits fit right in there as well. Just know what your kids will eat2. Find time saving solutions. Hard boil some eggs. Make breakfast sandwiches the night before that can be warmed up in a toaster oven while the kids are getting dressed. Cook something delicious that can be microwaved any morning.In our house, we cook a delicious Breakfast Casserole. And our kids are in their 30’s and living in other states! It’s THAT good. You can download the recipe right here: Breakfast Casserole 2Â It’s a definiteÂ – and delicious – time saver!
3. Go portable. Hard boiled eggs, those pre-made breakfast sandwiches I mentioned, yogurt with fresh fruit all fit the bill. So do these terrific Sausage and Egg Breakfast Squares 2 Click and download this simple recipe!
4. Adjust routines a little. I know, it’s hard to do, but if you start getting your teenagers to sleep 20 minutes earlier, they can get up 20 minutes earlier. In theory, at least!
For younger kids, make it a game. Each night they get in bed 20 minutes early, they get a point. Each morning they’re up 20 minutes early, they get a point. Score a certain number of points in a week or a month, get a special prize. A movie, a day of bowling, whatever you think is appropriate.
Chaos in the cafeteria?
Let’s talk about the less controllable environment – the school cafeteria. In spite of some rather draconian, top-down solutions over the past 10 or so years, nutrition in schools can still be hit-or-miss. Yes, schools offer options that meet the government guidelines for “healthy,” but as someone who visits schools occasionally, I can tell you that sometimes doesn’t mean anything.
If it’s healthy, but the kids think it’s gross, end of story. So some kids will opt to not eat at all or will selectively eat part of the meal. Often, they’ll trade with kids who bring lunch to get the snacks or desserts sent from home.
That, of course, is the safest course of action. There’s still no guarantee your kids will eat well, but you have a far better chance of getting something nutritious into them at school if you supply it from home. Be sure to include protein choices they like. Chicken, turkey, roast beef and chicken or tuna salad on whole grain bread make great, high-protein “main course” options. Send a veggie selection with that sandwich – bell pepper strips, carrots, dark leafy greens, whatever veggies your child will eat. Fruits are easy. Most kids like at least a few, so pick their favorites that are in season or readily available.
If your kids get lunch at school, be sure to have a conversation with them about what that looks like. Questions like “what’s your favorite food to get at school?” will get better answers than straight up interrogation about what they ate.
It’s a good idea to have a nutritious snack ready and available when your kids get home. Even if dinner will be served at a “normal time” (whatever that means anymore,) they will likely be hungry when they get home. You are always better off controlling the snack choices for your kids than allowing them to “free graze.”
Apples and peanut butter, Greek yogurt and a piece of fruit or veggies and hummus are great choices. A smaller serving of a smoothie you might make for breakfast is also a good choice.
Managing busy schedules
My suggestion to parents of busy athletes and kids is three-fold.
- Be prepared. Have as much good, healthy food ready to go as you think you need, then add about 10%. Kids get hungriest when it’s least convenient, right?
- Don’t stress over eating schedules. We’d all like to sit down at the dinner table at the same time every night. But if your kids are as busy as most of the kids I work with, that’s virtually impossible. Just get them – and you – fed with the good stuff and don’t beat yourself up over stuff you can’t control. That being said…
- Family dinner at least 2-3 nights a week. Even if that means everyone sits down at a “weird” time on 1 or 2 weeknights. Eating together has been shown to reduce the likelihood of obesity in both kids and parents. And it’s just better for family unity.
A couple of other things
Here are a few other recommendations regarding your kids nutrition in this busy time, and all the time.
- Hydrate. Water, and lots of it. A glass when they get up and one right before bed can help keep them “in the swim.”
- Probiotics. 80% of the immune system is in the gut. It’s easy for the negative bacteria to overtake the healthy ones when kids are exposed to sugars and processed foods. Taking care of the probiotic balance can have a positive impact on mood, sleep and maintaining a healthy immune system. You can use a supplement like Nordic Naturals Probiotics to help.
- Get enough sleep. 8 to 10 hours a night. So much of the digestive process is aided by sleep, not to mention the repair and recovery process.
- Fiber. Look for ways to add fiber to the diet. Anytime you can add a leafy green vegetable to a dish or get them to eat high fiber grains, do it. It will keep them happy and healthy in the same way it does for us adults!
- Get them their Omega’s! It will positively benefit mood, attention, focus, metabolism, energy and the immune system. Oily fishes like Salmon and tuna, seeds and nuts and avocados are good sources. There is recent research, however, that shows that our bodies don’t convert the Omega-3’s in nuts, seeds and avocados efficiently. It’s still being researched, but I’ve been referring my athletes to take Nordic Naturals Complete Omega. It’s a great, natural product with a full spectrum of Omega 3 and 6.
I know this is a crazy-busy time of year and that transitions can be tough. I hope these recommendations help you and your family make a smooth transition into the school year. And I hope this school year is happy, healthy and successful for your family!
Keep the faith and keep after it!