For many kids, the lunch line in the school cafeteria may be the very first time they are deciding for themselves what to eat. That may be a frightening thought for some parents, especially knowing that many schools, in addition to healthy options, also offer junk food with tons of fat, sugar, and calories including chicken nuggets, pizza, French fries, and mac 'n' cheese to name but a few.
Of course you don't want your child loading up on those empty calories every day, but you won't be there to okay everything he or she puts on the tray. Here's how to help your child to make good choices in the cafeteria.
-The most important thing you can do to help your child make healthy choices in the cafeteria is to show them what good nutrition and portion control means at home. When you are eating dinner, try to follow the new My Plate Guidelines from the USDA: 50 percent of the plate should be fruits and vegetables; a lean protein and whole grains make up the rest. If they get used to eating this way at home, your kids should be able to navigate the cafeteria in the same way.
-Along the same lines as the first point, make it a habit of serving a variety of healthy foods at home. Your kids will be more likely to recognize and choose these same foods at school.
-If your school allows lunches from home, encourage your kids to pack a lunch a few days of week. This will help you to control at least some of the food they are eating.
-Have a conversation about specific cafeteria foods you want or don't want them to have. Many families have rules around the cafeteria such as: You can only have French fries one day a week. Or, you can have chocolate milk but only if you have a salad, too.
-Some schools document what kids eat for lunch every day. If your school does this, request a copy of this information and review it with your kids. Communicating with your kids about what they are eating can go a long way in terms of helping them to make healthy choices.
-If at all possible, get involved in your school's lunch program and suggest healthy alternatives.
How do you help your kids make healthy food choices?
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