It’s no secret that proper nutrition promotes optimal growth and development of children. But getting a child to eat properly is not always the easiest task. Below are several tips to promote proper nutrition to aid your student’s educational development.
The Importance of Breakfast
Tip #1 – Start the day right! Starting the day with a well-rounded breakfast will give your child the brain power to stay focused and positive all day long.
We’ve always been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. While that may be up for debate, eating a healthy breakfast has been shown to help improve many aspects of a child’s life including:
- Cognitive function – Eating breakfast provides energy that helps with learning, retention, and memory
- Drive – after eating breakfast children are much more likely to want to go to school
- Mood – Proper nutrition in the morning keeps energy level up during the day
In a 2006 study of 4,000 elementary school students, researchers measured the effects of eating breakfast. Across the board, students who ate breakfast performed better than those who had skipped the meal. But that doesn’t mean you should send your student off with a stomach full of sugary cereal. A poor diet high in sugar can lead to fatigue and energy imbalance in students.
Consider a breakfast high in protein, good carbohydrates, and fiber. Here are just a few healthy breakfast ideas for your child:
- Peanut butter and banana on whole grain toast
- Oatmeal with fresh fruit
- Whole grain pancakes
- Scrambled eggs with a side of fresh fruit
Getting your child to eat a healthy, balanced breakfast won’t be the easiest task, so try presenting the food in a fun way. This could mean arranging the fruit to look like a face or making pancakes shaped like their favorite cartoon. They’ll want to eat what looks the most fun and colorful.
Know Your Servings
Tip #2 – Follow serving recommendations. Making sure your child is getting the recommended servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein each day is imperative to their cognitive development and functioning.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most students in the United States are not getting their daily recommended servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
The American Heart Association suggests school-aged children should consume 2 to 6 servings of fruits and vegetables and two to three ounces of whole grains daily. Be sure to mix up the fruits and vegetables each day to best get a variety of nutrients.
Additionally, adolescents have an especially high need for calcium – three to four servings a day. When selecting dairy products high in calcium, choose those that are also low in fat or fat-free such as:
- Natural Cheeses
- Cottage Cheese
Pluck Up Picky Eaters
Tip #3 – Reinforce healthy eating habits. Make food more palatable by cutting it up into pieces or displaying it in a fun way.
Research has shown that ADHD children are much more likely than other children to be selective with food. However, there are many ways to reinforce good feeding habits in picky eaters.
Have your child try at least one mouthful of a food they do not like at every meal. Try making it more palatable to them by adding their favorite condiments such as ketchup or honey.
If texture is the issue, chop food into smaller pieces or puree it to the child’s preference. Remember to give positive reinforcement when the child does accept the food, but be wary of rewarding. While the promise of dessert may entice them to eat their vegetables, it may also become expected at every meal.
Set the Example
Tip #4 – Set a healthy example. Your opinions and actions matter to your child, so when they see you eating healthy food, they’ll want to mimic that.
It may seem like children enjoy doing the opposite of what you tell them – especially when it comes to healthy-eating advice – but your opinions and actions make a big impact on how they view nutrition.
Younger school-aged children especially love to mimic those around them, including meal preferences and willingness to try new foods. Take advantage of this behavior by making healthy eating choices in front of them. Here are some ideas to get your child to eat healthier:
- Make healthy snacks with your child
- Encourage your child to make the “yum” face when eating vegetables instead of the “yuck” face
- Talk positively about healthy food like fruits and vegetables
Don’t Prohibit Treats
Tip #5 – Limit, don’t prohibit. Banning sugary treats or salty snacks altogether increases temptation to eat them.
If bad eating habits reign, they can be hard to change, especially when they’ve become comfortable routines.
Once children get their first taste of crunchy, sweet, or salty foods, it’s hard to get them unhooked. But rather than ban these kinds of foods outright from your home, limit the number of treats allowed each day and offer them in single-serving sizes (rather than a bulk bag). This way, children won’t be as tempted to want what they can’t have because the food won’t be completely forbidden.
Banning a specific food is also a bad idea because if the food becomes available to your child outside your home, he or she might eat it despite feeling full. This can lead to a habit of overeating.
Last, avoid restricting desserts or other treats as punishment for bad behavior, as this can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.
Sources include: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cleveland Clinic, Health.gov, Interactive Autism Network, LiveScience.com, NPR