As the number of children in the United States who are overweight or obese has continued to climb at an alarming rate, many parents have started paying closer attention to the nutritional value of the foods being offered to their children at lunchtime. In response, many school systems have begun making changes to their menus, including eliminating fried foods and adding more healthful low-fat and vegetable-based dishes to students.
Listed below are some simple ways that you can help guide your children to make healthy eating choices from the school cafeteria.
Encourage Your Children to Make Healthy Eating Choices
Children who are raised in a home where fresh fruits and vegetables are more readily available than sweets may be more likely to pick healthy foods when they are away from home. Try to not label any particular food as “forbidden.” Instead, show your children how all foods can be a part of a healthy eating plan. You can help by acting as a positive role model, letting your children see you eating foods that are not only delicious, but nutritious, as well.
Making Wise Choices from the School Cafeteria
You can’t force your children to select healthy foods from the school cafeteria, but you can educate them about the benefits of eating a nutritious lunch. Aside from providing them with important vitamins and nutrients, lunch also helps to refuel their bodies for the rest of the day.
Children who eat from the school cafeteria should be encouraged to:
- Choose a balanced lunch
Children spend the majority of their waking hours at school. Therefore, they need a nutritious lunch that is comprised of foods from each of the food groups. Even if a child selects a hamburger, which is relatively high in fat, he can balance this choice by eating the hamburger on a whole-wheat bun, have a salad instead of fries or chips, an apple instead of a cookie, and drink skim milk instead of a milkshake.
- Avoid skipping lunch
Even if they are pressed for time, eating lunch is extremely important to your children’s health and proper growth. If standing in line in the cafeteria takes too long, help your children pack a nutritious lunch from home.
- Choose 1% or skim milk over whole milk
Milk provides children with calcium and other important vitamins and nutrients that they need for healthy bones and teeth. The lower-fat versions of milk have the same nutritional values as their higher-fat counterpart, however, but without the excess fat.
- Resist the vending machines
Your children may be tempted to skip the lunch line in the cafeteria and grab a candy bar or other snack from the vending machine. When they do this, they are not only loading up on fat and sugars, but they are also depriving their bodies of the nutritional benefits that can be derived from a well-balanced lunch.
- Incorporate plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
Encourage your children to add extra vegetables and fruits to their lunch by placing lettuce and tomato on their sandwich and eating an apple or low-fat yogurt and fruit for dessert.