Parents, guardians, and grandparents are crucial partners in helping children make nutritious food choices at school. Getting involved with your children’s school lunch and breakfast programs is easy and makes a big impact in children’s health and wellbeing! Try these healthy tips at home and school to start and reinforce healthy eating habits in kids.
Tips for home:
Review the school menu, with your children and make nutritious choices together. For example, what vegetable will your children choose with each entrée? Which fruit? Which source of calcium (yogurt, cheese, or white or flavored milk)? Rushed, on-the-spot choices are often less healthy than those planned in advance, so think through these decisions ahead of time, together. According to Dr. Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, the mind makes food-related decisions more than 200 a day, many of them without pause for actual thought.
Try a variety of healthy foods at home, especially fruits and vegetables. Children are more likely to try new foods if they have tried them at home or when foods look familiar. So, conduct your own home tastings to familiarize your children with healthy foods they may encounter in the school lunchroom.
Learn and help your children understand the basics of the food label. It is important to emphasize the serving size of items. Many consumers, children and adults alike, mistakenly think a package equals one serving when it truly contains multiple servings.
Make grocery shopping a family activity. This can be a great place to familiarize your family members to unfamiliar vegetables and other new foods.
Tips for school:
Observe or eat lunch with your student. (Check with the principal first.) Role modeling cannot be underestimated. Children will be more likely to try what others are eating. Have an open mind and be encouraging.
Ask about volunteer opportunities in the school lunch- room during breakfast and lunch. There are lots of ways to help, such as decorating the lunch room, helping with taste testing (helping share small tastes of new or unfamiliar foods with students), or sharing nutritional messages with students. Coordinate with other parents to assist throughout the week.
Join the school wellness committee. Most schools have a wellness committee that helps establish their nutrition and physical activity policies and procedures. This is a great opportunity to be heard and to motivate other parents and school stakeholders to support your initiatives.
Familiarize yourself with the vending and a la carte items sold at school. Talk with your children about your expectations concerning these items. Some schools even allow parents to create purchasing restrictions on student accounts, such as allowing treats once per week or only in concert with a full healthy meal. Discuss responsible food choices with your children.
There are many ideas and opportunities out there for those who want to help our children be healthy. School meals are a wonderful place to be involved!