Teaching Children To Eat Balanced, Healthy Meals
September 17, 2013

Teaching Children To Eat Balanced, Healthy Meals

By now, just about every school is back in session, which means that parents across the country spend part of their morning routine packing those brown-bag lunches. More and more families send their kids to school with lunches, which means that we need to really think about what foods we send with our children. Walgreens.com recently published an article about fixing healthy school lunches. Let’s take a look at some of the advice.

First and foremost, Walgreens suggests using the United States Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate.gov’s program. The ChooseMyPlate initiative focuses on certain messages to help Americans build healthier diets including:

  • Balancing Calories
    • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
    • Avoid oversized portions.
  • Foods to Increase
    • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
    • Make at least half your grains whole grains.
    • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
  • Foods to Reduce
    • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals—and choose foods with lower numbers.
    • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

ChooseMyPlate inspires Americans to fill half of their plate with fruits and non-starchy veggies, a quarter with lean protein, and a quarter of whole grains or starchy veggies, and it also supports switching milk to 1 percent or skim. This is called the MyPlate 50-25-25 rule.

As Walgreens writes, “The MyPlate 50-25-25 rule can easily translate to your kid’s lunchbox. Choose your protein (such as yogurt, sandwich meat, beans or edamame), a whole grain (sandwich bread, whole wheat pasta salad or whole grain crackers, for instance) and generous helpings of fruits and vegetables. Take the humble turkey sandwich, a lunchtime standard. Add an apple and veggie sticks and, voilà, you’ve got a well-balanced lunch.”

Let’s look at another example. It is really easy to take a typical lunch and make it balanced and healthy. For instance, let’s take the childhood favorite of peanut butter and jelly. First, consider using natural peanut butter instead of the processed kind. Stir in a little local honey for sweetening if need be. Get a piece of good whole grain bread, cut it in half and spread jam made with real sugar and the natural peanut butter. Include a pear or banana and some cut up bell pepper or celery or even a small salad. In just minutes, the kids have a healthy, tasty lunch that satisfies the 50-25-25 rule.

Additionally, the Walgreen’s article reminds us to drink more water. Sure, putting a can of soda in that lunch would be easy, but sending a refillable bottle of water will instill in the child the importance of drinking water. If a child really wants flavor, get some of the powdered vitamin C packs (Emergen-C has several varieties.) that are fruit flavored. Not only will children receive the health and nutrition benefits from the vitamins and minerals in the vitamin c packs, but they will also enjoy the flavor in their water bottles.

It is also important to engage children in packing a lunch. Sure, giving them a packed lunch shows them what a well-balanced packed lunch is, but actually involving them in packing it makes them choose what fruits, veggies, protein, and grains to include. It is teaching them to fish, if you will. Pre-plan lunches for the week together and take a child grocery shopping to pick up the foods. Not only would parents be teaching their children about healthy meals, but also it could be a good opportunity for quality time.

Not all children bring their lunches, so it is equally as important to teach children about eating cafeteria foods. Again, use the ChooseMyPlate website to help even here. Of course, kids eat more than just lunches, so it is necessary to continue teaching balanced meals with breakfast and dinner, as well as promoting healthy snacking. Furthermore, parents should also allow sweet treats or less healthy food once in a while to avoid binging or sneaking foods.

As the school year moves forward, let us all continue to eat healthy and promote balanced meals for our children and ourselves. One step at a time we can become a much healthier nation.

Image Credit: Thinkstock.com

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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