A balanced diet plays a crucial role in a child’s overall physical and mental health, particularly with the demands of school and the importance of promoting an active lifestyle to keep children fit. Healthy eating habits in children are essential for their growth and development and for maintaining their energy levels and concentration in school. However, encouraging healthy eating can be challenging, especially with picky eaters.
Here are some effective strategies for promoting healthy eating habits in children who are picky eaters, focusing on a nutritious breakfast before school, wholesome school lunches, and healthy after-school snacks, followed by a balanced supper. Good health does not have to be complicated, and these suggestions are designed to be easy to incorporate.
The Importance of Diet in a Child’s Overall Health
Food is nature’s first medicine, the foundation of every person’s health. Nutritious foods provide essential nutrients and energy that support growth, cognitive function, and the immune system. On the other hand, non-nutritious foods will inhibit the proper functioning of all the body’s systems. Parents and caregivers must recognize that what a child eats fundamentally impacts their physical and mental well-being, particularly during their formative years.
Breakfast Before School: A Healthy Start to the Day
The saying “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is true, especially for children. After 10 to 12 hours of not eating, your child needs to lay a good foundation for mental and physical alertness for the rest of the day.
Unfortunately, crafty marketers have convinced many families that sugary cereals or quick shakes will be an adequate substitute for a breakfast made with natural whole foods. This is not true. A wholesome breakfast high in protein and rich in vitamins sets the tone for the day. It fuels their bodies and minds for learning and positive social interaction. For picky eaters, try to offer a variety of nutrient-rich options that appeal to their taste preferences. Some ideas include:
- Eggs can be cooked in many ways: boiled, fried, or scrambled. They can also easily be combined with salsa and cheese to make a healthy breakfast burrito or a breakfast sandwich with bacon, cheese, or sliced turkey.
- Natural fruit smoothies: Blend fruits, leafy greens, low-sugar yogurt, and a splash of milk or plant-based milk in the blender to create a delicious and nutrient-packed smoothie.
- Overnight oats: Combine rolled oats with milk or yogurt and top with fruits and nuts for a fiber-rich and filling breakfast parfait.
- Nut butter and fruit: Spread almond or peanut butter on whole-grain toast or apple slices for a balanced and satisfying option.
School Lunches: Balanced and Tasty
When it comes to school lunches, creating a balance between taste and nutrition is key. Involve your child in meal planning, and together, come up with exciting ideas that include a mix of food groups. Pay attention to the foods your child likes, and incorporate those foods into the meal. After all, food left uneaten provides no health benefits at all. Here are some healthy school lunch ideas that your child may find appealing:
- Wraps: Tortillas filled with leafy greens, lean proteins like turkey or grilled chicken, sliced vegetables, pickles, and flavored hummus or cream cheese.
- Bento boxes: Arrange compartments with fruits, veggies, cheese, whole-grain crackers, boiled eggs, and a small treat for a fun and balanced meal.
- Pasta salads: Find a fun-shaped pasta and add colorful vegetables, a good protein, some cheese, and a tasty dressing.
- Side dishes: Add a banana, apple, grapes, or other favorite, easy-to-eat fruit as a side. You can also add cheese sticks and a tub of yogurt for short breaks or before an after-school club or sports activity.
Healthy After-School Snacks
After a long day at school, children need additional fuel to replenish their energy levels until dinner time. Instead of reaching for sugary or processed snacks, offer these healthier alternatives:
- Fresh fruit: When in season, have grapes, apples, berries, cherries, and other sweet fruits on hand for easy snacking.
- Yogurt parfaits: It is easy to make an appealing parfait by layering yogurt, fresh fruit, and granola. Feel free to put a little whipped cream on top – that small indulgence will not adversely affect the healthful aspect of the rest of the dish, and the topping will make it appealing.
- Veggie sticks: Children will eat vegetables when you make them accessible. Carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, sliced bell peppers, and other cold vegetables go well with hummus, ranch dip, or soft cheeses.
- Trail mix: Create a blend of nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and dark chocolate chips for a sweet and energizing snack.
Regular Check-ups and Support
Having a child who is a picky eater is pretty common, and parents can often throw up their hands in frustration when trying to guide their child’s dietary choices. When the child’s preferences are fundamentally healthy, that may work out. But if a child chooses nutritionally deficient foods, parents must intervene. During the school-age years, good nutrition is critical to their growth and health.
Being proactive in instituting good dietary and activity habits in your children will set them up for long-term health. If you are having difficulty instituting a diet regimen for your child, ask your child’s healthcare provider for assistance.
At Northwest Pediatrics, we can assess your child’s current state of health to discover whether your child has any deficiencies, determine whether your child has any food allergies or sensitivities, and make some recommendations for guiding your child to a more healthful lifestyle. To set up an appointment with Nurse Practitioners Jeanna Padilla or Marty Williams, contact Northwest Pediatrics today.