Starting school is a big occasion for you and your child. During this time, your child’s diet will depend on their level of physical activity and influences from friends, family and the media. Breakfast Children should always eat breakfast! They need a well-balanced meal at the start of the day. This will give them energy and help them to concentrate in school. Consider including some options from the table below. If possible, prepare at least some of the breakfast the night before. Lunch Going to school full time means that packing lunches will become part of your child’s new routine. Use the following tips when preparing school lunches. Choose from the options in Canada’s Food Guide. Provide small portions of food with plenty of variety. Pack lunches that are easy to carry and eat (try to avoid messy and mushy foods). Use a freezer pack for perishables (food that may go bad). Use leftovers that convert well to lunch-friendly meals. Put them in airtight containers. Over time, involve your child in preparing lunches. Check how much lunch your child brings home. Find out if your child swaps food with friends. Work on new lunch ideas over time. Snacks Children have big appetites after school, so be sure to serve healthy snacks. Snack options should include two of the four food groups to sustain your child’s energy levels between meals. Dinner Dinner is a time for the family to connect, so engage all the family in conversation.
Healthy food and drink choices outside the home
Tweens and teens are gaining independence and are likely to making up their own lunch or start eating out more often with their friends. They should be encouraged to make healthy choices when they eat out, whether at school or a local restaurant.
Let your child choose healthy school lunch items that they enjoy. Here are just a few options to get them started if they are bringing lunch from home.
Leftovers from the night before make for easy lunches. Your tween or teen can take their pick and mix and match. For example, leftover cooked pasta makes for an easy cold pasta salad with vegetables and Italian salad dressing. If you have left over chicken breast, your tween or teen can add some to the pasta salad or make a grilled chicken sandwich.
A whole grain pita stuffed with vegetables and hummus makes for a portable, easy and tasty lunch. Other options include egg salad, tuna salad or cheese. Keeping your fridge stocked with a range of vegetables allows your tween or teen to get creative with the pita fillings. You can also use different flavours of whole grain tortillas to suit your tween’s or teen’s tastes.
If your tween or teen is buying school lunches from the cafeteria, they need your guidance about how to select healthy foods. For example, advise them to choose:
chicken or fish that is grilled or baked rather than deep fried
burgers with vegetable toppings
steamed rather than fried rice
salad bar options, with a small amount of dressing on the side
fruit salad for dessert.
Tweens and teens see a lot of advertising for sugary, nutrient-poor drinks. A lot of popular beverages such as soft drinks, vitamin waters, sports drinks, energy drinks, iced teas and specialty coffee drinks contain high amounts of sugar and calories. For example, a large iced coffee might have more calories than a fast food hamburger!
Tips to curb your tween or teen’s desire to buy a soda or other high-calorie drink
Keep a re-usable water bottle filled with cold water in the fridge for when your child is ready to leave for school. When your child starts off drinking water, they are more likely to re-fill the bottle at school and stay hydrated throughout the day.
Have individual milk cartons on hand for lunches.
Encourage your child to have fruit instead of fruit juice. Your child will get nutrients from the fruit as well as the fibre that is missing from the juice.
Talk to your tween or teen about drinks that contain caffeine, such as energy drinks, soda and coffee. Energy drinks, which can contain high levels of caffeine, are marketed towards tweens and teens.
Balancing convenience with nutrition
One of the biggest concerns with frequent eating out is weight gain. Eating fast or convenience foods is easy and enjoyable for teenagers, but it comes at a price: high calories, large portion sizes and higher fat, sugar and sodium content. Because of this, teens need to be aware of what they choose, how much they have and how often they eat out.
To find a balance, consider healthier choices at most meals, using options from the four food groups in Canada’s Food Guide. This still leaves room for less healthy choices at other times.
You can encourage a healthy attitude towards food by encouraging your tween or teen to make a variety of choices from all food groups without labelling any food as “good” or “bad”. Instead, you might want to teach your tween or teen about “everyday foods” and “sometimes foods”. You can also encourage your tween or teen to keep portion sizes in check by ordering the smallest portion or splitting orders with friends.