3 Things Parents Can Do to Support Healthy Eating at School and Beyond

Cute little girl eats carrot and apples, isolated over whiteThe school year has already begun here in the South Bay, which means that parents and kids are busy with classes and extra-curricular activities.

Growing brains and bodies need nourishment that comes from meals and snacks that include a variety of foods and beverages. Here are three ways that parents can support kids to eat well at school now, while building a nourishing eating pattern for life:

  • Make sure you provide food. First and foremost, feed yourself and your family, however that needs to happen. You will be hungry doing all of the many things. If needed, give your kid money for lunch (there are dedicated school dietitians working to make school food more nutritious than in previous years). Most of all, think of how to make feeding easier. What will bring ease to your feeding routine? Pre-bagged salads? Apples and individually bagged almonds bought at the grocery store? Ordering groceries online? Whatever it is, be kind to yourself and don’t try to be perfect.
  • Allow for autonomy. Let children choose and pack parts of, or all of, their lunch for the next day. Provide a variety of options among food groups (grains, protein, veggie, fruit, dairy, ‘dessert’ foods, and healthy fats) and allow children to pick one option from each or at least 4 groups to put into their lunch box. This will increase the odds that a food is consumed at lunch and help a child learn responsibility while internalizing the elements of a balanced meal. For more guidance, see Jill Castle’s post and guide to independent school lunch packing for school-age kids. 
  • Build a non-diet mentality. Once the food is packed and the kids are off to school, let go of the urge to push children to eat and to eat a certain amount, or not to eat only dessert. Following the Satter Division of Responsibility  is important in teaching a child to listen and respond to internal cues of hunger and fullness, which will allow him or her to grow into the body appropriate to them. One mom and dietitian even includes a note to her child’s school lunch monitors to share with them her approach to feeding her kids, in the hopes of growing body respect and releasing dichotomous “good” and “bad” labels for foods.

This school year, feed yourself, encourage your kids to do so, and then let it go. Trust that your work feeding your family and instilling your family’s food values to them will support your child’s growth and development.

Sarah Pruett Soufl (pronounced “so full”) is a non-diet Registered Dietitian Nutritionist that empowers people through insight and information to appreciate their bodies, move more, improve lab values and understand food and nutrition as one important aspect of a full life. Learn more here: https://souflnutrition.com/ 

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