Help Kids Eat Better on School Days (Video)

5 practical ideas from a dietitian

lunch box food

We know that kids need good nutrition to keep their brains humming – especially at school. If they don’t eat right, kids can get headaches and have trouble being attentive.

Advertising Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

So how can you help your kids eat better during school days? Here are some tips I like to share with parents:

apple slices

 

 

 

 

 

1. Pack snacks

Prepared snacks can help you ensure portion control and nutritional value while avoiding kids becoming overly hungry. It also helps to be prepared with snacks in the car instead of rolling through a fast food drive-through.

What should you pack? Pre-packaged snacks offer convenience and built-in portion control. But I recommend putting your own snacks in a to-go bag. It’s cheaper and you can have more control over the ingredients and their quality (i.e. whole wheat crackers and quality cheese).

Think about what foods pack the most nutritional punch and choose wisely. Chocolate bites and an apple might have the same number of calories, but we all know an apple offers much more nutrition.

 boy drinking water

Advertising Policy

 

 

 

 

2. Drink water

Some kids will go all morning and afternoon without drinking enough fluids. What’s the best drink to offer them? Well, what may surprise some parents is that I would recommend water over juice to avoid the sugar. Even 100 percent pure juice has fructose.

If your kids don’t like water, you can add low-calorie flavor enhancers to help make the taste more appealing, or you can add a fresh lemon slice or cucumber slice to their water.

For lunchtime, I think milk is also great to drink because it provides calcium to help them get through the rest of the day.

cookie cutters

 

 

 

 

 

3. Create fun with sandwich shapes

A star- or heart-shaped sandwich can make kids excited about their lunch. And it’s never too early to introduce whole-wheat bread; which might be an easier sell in a fun, specially-shaped sandwich! If your child insists on white bread, there is a “white-wheat” bread, which looks like white bread but offers more of the fiber and nutrients of wheat bread.

school lunch tray

 

 

 

 

 

4. Go with school lunches (rather than a la carte)

If you don’t pack lunches, it’s always better to go with a complete school lunch rather than have kids pick and choose a la carte items.

In fact, recent changes to U.S. Guidelines call for school lunches around the nation to offer:

Advertising Policy
  • Variety of vegetables and fruits (colored red, orange and green)
  • Inclusion of beans
  • Limited fat (no more than 30 percent total fat with 10 percent or less saturated fat)

So if you have your child buy the meal on the menu, you can be confident it’s healthy rather than have them buy a la carte items that may not be truly nutritious.

If you opt to pack your child’s lunch, you may want to have them bring home what they don’t finish for lunch so you get a sense of what they’re eating. This can also provide insight regarding nutrients missing from their diet.

paper bag lunch

 

 

 

 

 

5. Get kids involved in packing their lunch

When kids take part in preparing their lunches, it offers a bonding experience with parents and teaches them to work as a team.

Also, a child feels ownership when their own work goes into packing lunches. They can pick healthy items at the grocery store and having this process will introduce children to cooking early in life.

If you opt to pack your child’s lunch, you may want to have them bring home what they don’t finish for lunch so you get a sense of what they’re eating. This can also provide insight regarding nutrients missing from their diet.

Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD

Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD

Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and Outpatient Nutrition Manager in the Center for Human Nutrition.
Advertising Policy