I’m no longer making lunches for my sons, but I remember well the struggles at times when what I wanted them to eat was not in alignment with what they wanted.
Whole foods, locally grown and in season are great starting points for family health. However, trying to combine healthy choices with the preferences of your child, and potentially the influences of other children can be a challenge for many parents. I’ve been there too. As a health professional I found it especially challenging because much of my work relates to building health in the body, and with everything that I know it’s been hard at times to not get fanatical about food! However, applying these ideas made life easier for all of us, and much healthier for them.
Here’s what I learned, and what I still do with my sons:
Get your children involved. When my sons were younger they always came to the farmers market with me, we visited local farms, had our own plot at a community garden for a few years, and they’ve always been in the kitchen with me cooking. Now I give them a list of food to prep for dinner the nights I’m busy in practice, and they are actively involved in choosing meals for the week. I doubt they would have this appreciation for food had we not spent hours together when they were younger.
Start Early. I often joke with my sons that at least I was able to make sure their food was super nutritious in their earlier years when their brain was rapidly growing! Offer your baby, toddler, and child an abundance of healthy food and they will grow into healthy kids with an appreciation for healthy food.
Model good choices. You can’t expect your children to choose vegetables, fruit, lean protein, good fats, if they never see you eating them! Your children might not always eat the meals you prepare (been there) but they are always watching and learning. Lead the way as the adult and stay consistent as much as possible. If you are going to indulge on occasion (and yes you should) talk to them about balancing healthy options.
Which leads me to my last point…
RELAX about it. Consider your child’s food intake for the whole day. Most of you are familiar with my 80/20 approach to a healthy diet – make 80% good choices and leave 20% for items that “have no nutritional value but taste good”. My boys lunches include a fruit, vegetable, sandwich/main of some type and then some kind of packaged, processed item that their grandmother buys them! They understand the importance of good food, but I have learned to focus on feeding them a solid breakfast and dinner, and loosened up about that middle meal. If you focus on the quality of their other meals during the day, and over the whole week, you can safely oblige their tastes for school lunches and still feel you are providing them with the solid nutrition for growing minds and bodies.
Need more ideas? Check out some of the books in our lending library, chat with other parents, and just keep experimenting! Ask me on one your upcoming visits for some other suggestions too.