Guest post by Dr. Sonal Haerter
Whether it’s through check-ups, vaccinations or establishing new routines, the back-to-school season serves as a reminder to prioritize our children’s health and wellness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 13 percent of children aged 2 to 5 and 20 percent of children aged 6 to 11 are categorized as obese. With these statistics in mind, this time of year presents an excellent opportunity to introduce and encourage healthy eating habits.
As a physician treating patients for weight management and obesity, I understand the challenges of introducing healthier foods to children. While genetics may influence health, as parents, we still have the power to make a positive impact on our children’s well-being.
A great place to start is by focusing on their school lunches. Here are some valuable tips and tricks that will make the transition to healthier eating much easier this back-to-school season.
Get creative with your fruits and vegetables. It’s no secret that incorporating fruits and veggies into your child’s diet can be an uphill battle, which is why creativity is key. Having a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to choose from can help your child easily include them in their everyday meals.
By giving kids the freedom to pick two or three colors to include in their lunch, you empower them with autonomy and ownership in their meal prep decisions. Additionally, blending fruits and vegetables into foods like smoothies, sauces, and soups offers a wonderful opportunity to introduce a wide range of fresh produce while creating a balanced and nutritious lunch.
Have fun with protein. You can expand lunches and snacks to include a wide range of proteins, such as lean meats, seafood, whole grains, dairy (yogurt, cottage cheese), nuts, soy, and vegetables. This will ensure your child consumes an adequate amount of protein and gets the essential nutrients they need to thrive throughout the day.
Play with your food. Cutting or shaping your child’s foods into interesting shapes or figures and adding a variety of colorful ingredients to their dishes are great ways to make their lunch more appealing while encouraging creativity in the kitchen. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be boring!
Meal prep together. Whether it’s preparing their lunch together the night before or allowing them to choose their snack the next morning, involving your child in the food preparation process helps encourage decision-making skills and can build their confidence in choosing healthy eating habits.
Not to mention, it’s a great bonding activity that positively shapes your child’s relationship with food. In addition to improving cognitive function and mental clarity by providing stable energy levels, prepping healthy meals can also save both time and money.
By planning and preparing meals in advance, we can avoid the need for last-minute trips to the grocery store or expensive takeout orders. Moreover, having prepared meals ready to go during busy weekdays means less time spent cooking and more quality moments shared with your family.
Your child’s eating habits are shaped while they’re young, so let’s encourage them to make healthy decisions this back-to-school season with creativity, enthusiasm, and deliciously healthy food.
Sonal Haerter, MD, is double board certified in Internal Medicine and Obesity Medicine, and a faculty member at Creighton University Health Sciences Campus in Phoenix. She is a practicing physician at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. Dr. Haerter counsels patients who are struggling with the negative impacts of unhealthy eating and poor dietary choices.