It’s time to head back to school, and with that comes a fresh opportunity to establish new habits with children and teens. As your family falls into a routine around the school day, be sure to incorporate healthy eating into the mix to ensure everyone has a strong year.
Tips for School-Age Children (Ages 6-12)
School-age children need healthy foods and nutritious snacks to fuel their busy bodies. They have a consistent but slow rate of growth, requiring them to eat four to five times a day (including snacks). Eating healthy after-school snacks is important, as these snacks may contribute up to one-third of the total calorie intake for the day. Remember that school-age children may also be eating more foods outside of the home.
Many food habits, likes and dislikes are established during this time. This makes it a perfect time to experiment with new foods, as school-age children are often willing to eat a wider variety of foods than their younger siblings.
Follow these seven tips to ensure good nutrition habits for school-age children:
- Always serve breakfast, even if it has to be “on the run.” Some ideas for a quick, healthy breakfast include fruit, milk, bagel, cheese toast, cereal, peanut butter sandwich and fruit smoothies.
- Take advantage of big appetites after school by serving healthy snacks, such as fruit, vegetables and dip, yogurt, turkey or chicken sandwich, cheese and crackers, or milk and cereal.
- Make healthy foods easily accessible.
- Allow children to help with meal planning and preparation.
- Serve meals at the table, instead of in front of the television, to avoid distractions.
- Fill half of the plate with colorful fruits and vegetables.
- Provide calorie-free beverages (water) throughout the day, to avoid filling up on non-nutritive calories.
Tips for Adolescents and Teens (Age 13 and Up)
During adolescence, children become more independent and make many food decisions on their own. Many adolescents experience a growth spurt and an increase in appetite, and they need healthy foods to meet their growth needs. Adolescents tend to eat more meals away from home than younger children. They are also heavily influenced by their peers.
Discuss these nine healthy eating tips with your adolescent to ensure he or she is following a healthy eating plan:
- Have several nutritious snack foods readily available. Oftentimes, teenagers will eat whatever is convenient.
- If there are foods that you do not want your teens to eat, avoid bringing them into the home.
- Drink water. Try to avoid drinks that are high in sugar. Fruit juice can have a lot of calories, so limit your adolescent’s intake. Whole fruit is always a better choice.
- When cooking for your adolescent, try to bake or broil instead of fry.
- Make sure your adolescent watches (and decreases, if necessary) his or her sugar intake.
- Eat more chicken and fish. Limit red meat intake, and choose lean cuts when possible.
- Arrange for teens to find out about nutrition for themselves by providing teen-oriented magazines or books with food articles and by encouraging them and supporting their interest in health, cooking or nutrition.
- Take their suggestions, when possible, regarding foods to prepare at home.
- Experiment with foods outside your own culture.