Getting children to develop healthy eating habits can oftentimes be challenging. Toddlers are easily distracted. Some throw their food on the floor… Others may reject food all together, or insist on only eating plain pasta with grated cheese on top and perhaps a little diced ham on the side. Preschoolers can be even more difficult as they begin to exert their independence. They believe they are the masters of their domain and the deciders when it comes to what goes into their mouths and bellies. Parents watch in bewilderment as children are both defiant and willfully deceptive in their food rejection (like hiding their vegetables in a napkin or passing food under the table to a waiting family pet). Yes, we have seen it all: dancing, singing, crying, running away, pleading, arguing, pretending to eat and the universally recognized expression of “No way I’m eating that.”
#TheStruggleIsReal for parents of young children when it comes to mealtime. As if getting children to eat all their veggies wasn’t enough… Now, you’re supposed to explain why having a proper lunch is both necessary and beneficial to your children? Yes, one more thing to pile on our busy days. But at Oak Village Academy, this understanding for our students goes hand in hand with our learning philosophy. We believe that eating a good lunch (and every meal) is important for a variety of reasons, including growth, energy, nutrition and learning healthy habits.
Lunch is an important meal of the day for our students. Without a proper lunch, students may be missing out on essential vitamins and nutrients. It’s also needed to refuel from the morning session. We understand that three meals a day (plus snacks) should contain all the proper nutrition for a growing person. Of course, everyone’s metabolism and activity levels are different, but the most important aspect of lunch—and all meals of the day—is to continue developing healthy eating habits.
Below we discuss some strategies that may be used to start—and continue to—reinforce the message of healthy eating, especially around lunchtime.
Healthy Eating: Books
Books are a great way to introduce toddlers and preschoolers to healthy eating habits. There are books that discuss trying new foods and others that explain where food comes from. Curled up at bedtime and reading books like Green Eggs and Ham (food experimentation) or The Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar (healthy and unhealthy foods) are great introductions. At the same time, parents can always give support, encouragement and positive reinforcement by using the examples to point out their own child’s successes. (“Do you remember when you did not want to eat a kiwi… just like Sam I Am? And now you love it!”)
Books can also be a valuable resource to teach children about other healthy habits such as cleanliness, handwashing, proper cleaning of fruits and vegetables and of course the time tested five-second rule!
Healthy Eating: Games
Group or one-on-one games are great ways to reinforce the importance of lunchtime and eating all your food. Flash cards with the food groups can help teach about the different categories of food, i.e. grains, fruits and vegetables and proteins. Grouping cards, pictures or even actual food items to create a proper lunch, breakfast or dinner can be done in just a few minutes… In reverse, you can use cards or pictures of foods that are not fit for a meal. You can also teach your children about snack foods… Maybe even give them a snack after the game. Just because you love them.
If you don’t have flashcards, you could always take an afternoon and cut out food pictures from magazines or newspapers with your child and group things together… Maybe make a collage to hang on the wall. With all the foods of the world!
Healthy Eating: Hands-On Experiences
There’s no better teacher than hands-on-learning. For learning about lunch there are a few options for parents. First is involving your child in the lunch selection process. You could also have them help prepare their lunch. Sure, it may ruin the occasional surprise you pack for them… But while they are choosing items for lunch, you can discuss which food groups they come from and how they help provide the necessary nutrition. When our students gather for lunch, we encourage conversations about the unique food choices which gives us an opportunity to explore other cultures.
Another fun activity is to place stickers on lunch items. No, not for you, silly! Let your child place a sticker on a sandwich, fruit or snack item. If you can find correlating food stickers you are #Superparent but maybe simple color codes could work. Blue for protein, red for drinks, green for fruits and veggies.
Healthy Eating: Apps
There are literally hundreds of apps developed for children, from infants to young adults, that introduce and reinforce healthy eating habits. There are games, coloring books and lesson plans all designed around healthy eating and making “good choices.” However, the World Health Organization just recently issued its first-ever standards regarding screen time for children with the recommendation that newborns to age two should not have any screen time at all. Two-to-four-year-olds should be limited to no more than one hour a day. See the report here.
But still there are some apps and resources that you might find interesting: