Make the right diet part of your back-to-school checklist
Good nutrition is still essential for the proper and healthy development of our children, but after more than a year and a half of pandemic life, studies show why it is so important to get our children back to healthy eating.
Children who have limited access to healthy meals and those who have fallen into excess unhealthy meals and do not exercise have suffered negative consequences during the pandemic.
In Miami-Dade County, even though the school system has provided children with free breakfast and lunch throughout the pandemic, one in six children still suffer from food insecurity. At the same time, pediatricians are concerned about obesity in children who are less active and ingest more and more junk food and sugary drinks.
The good news is there is help, but parents need to do their part.
Start the day with healthy breakfast options
Getting back to a school routine is always a challenge and making sure children eat a healthy breakfast is essential in setting the stage for a successful year.
Some nutritional principles never change: Limit cereals or sugary pastries, and have children eat fresh fruit instead of drinking juice, which is loaded with sugar.
Young children can be picky eaters; it’s our job to be patient and consistent in promoting healthy choices.
Don’t expect kids to eat oatmeal and grapefruit straight away to start the day, but give them new, healthy choices for breakfast, along with what you know they’re going to eat already. . Offer new foods when they are most hungry.
Because children model their behaviors on those of their parents, try the foods yourself and talk about the taste, smell and texture. Keep in mind that kids won’t necessarily like healthy options at first, so you may need to come up with new foods over and over again, more than a dozen times, if necessary.
The Miami-Dade County Florida Department of Health offers free nutrition education and counseling with experts through its Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Call 786-336-1300 or visit www.floridahealth.gov/programs-and-services.
If you can get your kids to school early enough, a free breakfast with healthy options is also available at Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Free lunches are also available for all students, thanks to a USDA waiver.
Master the Canteen Jungle
The school cafeteria can be a confusing and scary place, and that’s right for parents. Students have their own dining ecosystem, and it’s hard enough for your child to manage it without having to think too much about healthy choices.
So help them on their way.
Whether you’re cooking lunch for them or they’re choosing from what’s on offer in the cafeteria, planning ahead can make all the difference.
If you’re making their lunch, be sure to include plenty of fruit and veg and avoid prepackaged snacks like Lunchables (too much sodium!) And the like.
Cook the night before (maybe with all the dinner preparations) so they can enjoy better-prepared meals than you can cook together in the morning. Sandwiches are always fairly easy, but try using whole wheat or healthy bread options and pay attention to the nutritional value of the cold cuts and cheese you put in them.
Keep in mind that healthy options can take some getting used to, so be patient. Involve your children in the preparation of the meal so that they feel invested in their own lunch.
The same is true if they eat food from the cafeteria. Visit the website that lists weekly school meals and talk about what’s on offer, the healthiest choices, and what they’re likely to choose.
Don’t let it stop there. Talk to your kids when they get home and continue the conversation about what they liked and didn’t like and what good nutrition will give them.
Supplementary nutrition after school
A return to school for many students and families also means a return to after-school programs.
The Florida Department of Health offers an after-school meal program for some schools (where 50 percent of students have a free or reduced lunch) that includes snacks or lunches that meet the Department of Agriculture’s nutrition guides. from the United States – milk, fruits, vegetables, grains and meat (or meat substitute).
The Children’s Trust’s after-school programs for K-5 and K-6 to 12 students also provide meals and snacks in accordance with federal guidelines.
You can find a list and map of after-school programs near you – many of which also offer sports, games, dancing, and other fitness-promoting activities – at www.TheChildrensTrust.org/After-School.
The school year is just beginning, but don’t wait to feed your children well. It’s the best luck of a great year and the road to a healthy lifestyle.
Rachel Spector, MSW, has over 25 years of experience in early childhood development and learning; She currently oversees funding for K-5 after-school and summer programs and early childhood development, including the Miami-Dade County Early Learning Quality Improvement System, in Children’s Trust. For more information, visit www.TheChildrensTrust.org.