Good Nutrition & the Fall Routineby E. Bennewith, H. Dufour, A. Kennelly, & C. Thompson
Every year at this time parents and children start thinking of back to school—some with a smile, others with a little less cheer. The change from summer’s relaxation to fall’s schedule can be tricky. Easing children into new routines gradually can make a big difference in how they feel about the upcoming school year.
One of the most important transitions for kids as they return to school is getting used to eating on a schedule again. Here are some tips to help kids ease back into fall routines and ensure good nutrition along the way.“My child doesn’t like to eat at set times.”
Even in summer it is important to offer food regularly. It is tempting to let children graze all day as they get hungry, but this can make it more difficult to adapt to the school day where lunch and recess are at set times. Three meals and two to three snacks spread over the day is a good plan. This means that children have time to get hungry, especially if they are active. Hungry children tend to eat when food is available to them so they are more likely to eat at breakfast, lunch and snack times as well as dinnertime.“My kids never get up in time for breakfast.”
Bedtime is a routine that often falls by the wayside over the summer. Now would be a good time to get children into the habit of going to bed and getting up at regular times. A bedtime schedule can help with the breakfast routine. Before school starts, begin the habit of getting up a few minutes earlier to make time for breakfast.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It provides fuel for all the activities children (and parents) do in the day. Children who eat a healthy breakfast have better test results and better memory recall than children who skip breakfast. If children already have the habit of eating in the morning, they will find it easier to include breakfast in their fall routine.“My child usually has less than 15 minutes to eat lunch at school.”
For parents, the big routine change around school is making school lunches. Parents often feel pressured to find something that their child will eat in a short time. Remember that lunch is not the only opportunity that children have to eat during the school day. Instead of worrying that there won’t be enough time to eat a good lunch, try to offer more nutrients throughout the rest of the day:
• Eat breakfast. If time is short in the morning, make a smoothie with milk, yogurt and fruit and have it with a muffin or a slice of toast. If necessary, breakfast can be eaten on the way to school whether you are in a car, walking, or in a school bus. A muffin, a chunk of cheese or boiled egg and a piece of fruit are enough to get you there.
• The morning break is another opportunity to grab a quick snack. Cut-up fruit or vegetables, cheese and crackers, or homemade muffins all make a fast snack.
• Fill the lunch box with healthy foods that are colourful and cut up for easy eating. A container with many compartments allows you to provide a variety of fruits, vegetables, protein foods, dairy foods and grains. A small portion of each type of food makes the lunch yummy, nutritious and easy to eat.“My kids are always famished after school.”
A good after-school snack fills kids up enough so they won’t keep grazing until supper. This is a good time to add nutrients that may have been missed throughout the day. Preparing the snack ahead of time will prevent children from heading for less nutritious foods when they come in the door hungry.
Some great snack ideas are:
• Cut-up fruit
• Vegetables with dip
• Boiled eggs
• Leftover chicken
• Homemade pasta, soup or casserole
• Fruit crisps
• Puddings or yogurt
Serve the afternoon snack with a tall glass of cold milk. Offer the snack as soon as kids get home, and send them outside to play so they can work up an appetite for supper.
“Family meals are a great way to stay in touch with my children.”
In summer, when family time is less tightly scheduled, it is a good time to get into the habit of family meals. Studies have shown that children who regularly eat with their families do better in school, eat better and make healthier choices. Family picnics and barbecues are a good way to start eating together. To start, try to have at least three meals a week together.
A family meal is any meal when children eat with at least one significant adult in their lives. It doesn’t always have to be dinner—breakfast and lunch count as well. Children can help set the table and help prepare the meal. For more ideas, check out www.bettertogetherbc.ca. Once the habit is developed it is easier to take family meals into consideration when scheduling fall activities such as lessons and sports.
The food guide at www.myfoodguide.ca
is a fun way to plan family meals and snacks. Work with your child to develop your family’s personal food guides and enjoy healthy eating as you get back into fall routines.Eileen Bennewith, Helene Dufour, Anthea Kennelly and Christy Thomson are registered dietitians working for Vancouver Island Health Authority Child Youth and Family Community Health.