Kate, most parents of 5-year-olds have the same lament—there are many distractions at school that keep children from eating a healthy lunch. In many schools, children are seated indoors in class all morning and lunchtime is their first chance to run around outdoors and play with their friends—so many children choose to play rather than sit down to eat. Also, school-age children become more aware of what foods are “cool” and “uncool” based on television advertisements—they may feel social pressure to discard the fruit and eat their friend’s chips, cookies, or candy. What to do to help your 5-year-old have a nutritious diet?
- Keep talking with your son about the importance of healthy food to help him grow big, be strong, and have lots of energy. Take him shopping, point out the healthy foods, and let him choose healthy lunch foods like whole wheat bread and crackers, peanut butter, sandwich meats, pasta, string cheese, yogurt, crunchy vegetables, and fresh fruits. Have your son help make his lunch every evening for school the next day—he’s more likely to eat something he made for himself. Teach him how to prepare food that is healthy, attractive, and fun to eat by combining foods with different colors, cutting sandwiches into different shapes, or making a dip for fresh vegetables.
- When your son is at home, make sure that his other meals and snacks are healthy. Give him a good breakfast, afternoon snack, and dinner with food from the main food groups: grains, fruits/vegetables, meats, and dairy products. Avoid having junk food on-hand at home, limit the amount of television he watches, and model healthy eating and exercise practices yourself.
- Raise the issue of children’s nutrition at the Parent-Teacher Association meeting. With the dramatic rise in childhood obesity and unhealthy eating habits over recent years, this is an issue that parents, teachers, school administrators, and health professionals should be addressing. Young children’s nutrition is very important for their current and future health, and they are developing eating habits that will last for their lifetime. Ask what the school’s policy is on lunch. Some schools have found that they can encourage children to eat healthier by banning candy and sodas from lunches, removing junk food from vending machines at school, allowing children to have a brief recess to run around before sitting down to each lunch, and having teachers eat lunch at the table with children.
For more information about children’s nutrition, including fun activities for children, visit: www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/etext/000100.html
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.