Help your child perform better at school by swapping unhealthy lunchbox items with low nutritional value to foods that are vibrant and packed with power.
With school season back, parents will once again be confronted with a lot of questions. One concern that continuously comes up, year in, year out, is how to get kids to eat healthily while in school.
A study published in 2013 by researchers from St John’s University in New York showed that a healthy and balanced diet improves brain capacity, maximises cognitive capabilities and improves academic performance in school-age children. It also revealed that consuming too much junk food decreases academic performance by limiting the amount of information absorbed by the brain.
“Parents should guide their children to proper and healthy eating habits at a very early age,” says Dr Sameh Abdulmagid, paediatrics specialist at Bareen International Hospital. “Children’s formative years are crucial to starting good food habits.”
Swap junk food for nutritional nosh
For starters, junk food like sweets, chocolate, potato chips and soft drinks should be off limits. Not only are these addictive, they’re lacking in any nutritional value that could help children in their physical and mental growth.
Swap unhealthy foods for items with high nutritional value such as fresh fruit, nuts, milk, cheese and protein-rich food such as eggs and oats.
Always go for the natural version
Substituting fruit for dessert instead of chocolate or cake can gradually wean children off of sugar. This might take time but stay with it and soon enough, your kids will prefer eating a banana over jelly beans.
Also avoid canned fruit and foods in favour of natural alternatives: “Eliminate, or at least limit, canned foods and stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables,” advises Dr Sameh. “Keep in mind that canned food items contain a lot of preservatives and harmful chemicals that are bad for your health.”
Do a sweet swap
Allowing kids to eat sweet treats once in a while is okay, but as with any other sweet treat, Dr Sameh stresses that this should be only on certain occasions and in moderation.
A no-sweet rule can backfire as it can lead to more cravings and overindulgence when they’re at school.
Try swapping packaged, sugar-laden sweets for homemade pastries like cakes and cookies.
It’s also a good idea to take the kids grocery shopping with you. This way they can choose their own snacks and you can teach them about reading food labels along the way, and guide them in choosing healthier alternatives.
Stick to the pyramid
Remember that food pyramid you learned about all those years ago in school? It’s still a good tool for monitoring nutrition.
“Parents should serve food from each of the food groups – grains, protein, vegetables, fruits and dairy – in order to have a balanced diet,” Dr Sameh says.
“Protein is the body’s basic building block for growth and is necessary for maintaining cells, tissues and organs,” he adds. “Lack of protein in the diet can result in slow growth, lower immunity and weakened systems.
“Parents should also encourage their children to drink a generous amount of water every day. Water flushes out toxins from the body and hydrates the body’s organs, helping them perform to the highest capacity.”
Change your cooking methods
If you’re planning to prepare chicken, meat or fish, it’s much healthier to grill or boil it instead of frying. Fried food tends to be higher in calories and trans fats.
Similarly, you can opt for snacks that are baked rather than fried. Swap those greasy potato chips for healthier alternatives like oven baked vegetable chips.
Swap browns for brights
Most of us are programmed to think of ‘healthy’ food as boring, and kids are no different. To counter this, get creative by mixing and matching fruits and vegetables to make your child’s lunchbox more visually appealing with splashes of colour – just make sure it comes from a natural source, not artificial colouring.
If you’ve packed your child a sandwich with brown bread and white lunch meat, add some colour with slices of fresh red tomato. Swap a biscuit or bread roll for a vibrant green cucumber.
Ditch the sofa for the table
Developing sound eating habits starts at home so consistency is key to helping children understand the importance of minding what they eat.
Start by discouraging children from eating in front of the TV as this generally leads to overeating or snacking on the wrong food.
Remember to lead by example. Show your kids that you’re eating healthily too. Remember, children often look up to their parents as role models.
Eating as a family at the dinner table every night helps boost your family bond and can be a great way to monitor what your child is eating and drinking.
Wondering what to put inside your child’s lunchbox? Here are some suggestions.