Guest columnist Linda McVey is a 31-year veteran of the wellness industry. She serves as executive director of health initiatives for the YMCA of Greater Cleveland.
It is news to absolutely no one that healthy eating is critical for the developing bodies of youth. Less known, though, is that food also directly affects the ability to think and learn.
Students who eat well-balanced lunches are more attentive and alert in school. In 2018, the University of California, Berkeley, proved that healthy lunches even improved test scores.
We want the best for our kids. We know that they should eat nutritious lunches and snacks.
Easier said than done.
Many parents are overworked and exhausted. These harried parents fall prey to super-convenient processed snacks and pricey pre-packaged lunch items. Their best intentions get overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of daily life.
A bit of planning can help parents fulfill those good intentions about the food they are packing in lunch boxes and serving for snacks. Add a dose of psychology, and they can also entice kids to actually eat the healthy food served to them.
Experienced parents offer these tricks:
Think attractiveness: Two-thousand years ago, Apicius reportedly said, “We eat first with our eyes.” That certainly is true of our digital-age kids. What does lunch look like when your child opens her lunch box? Smashed, soggy, white sandwiches and brown fruit are unappealing. Use sturdy, high-fiber sandwich bread and sprinkle sliced apples, pears and avocado with lemon juice to keep colors vibrant until lunchtime. Draw a silly picture on a banana peel with a permanent marker to make your child smile.
Think easy-to-eat: Make fruit and vegetables kid-friendly by cutting them. Sliced apples are more appealing than whole apples; segmented oranges are more likely to be eaten than whole ones.
Think texture: Satisfy the urge for crunch with crisp vegetables, not chips. To keep them from getting rubbery, enclose carrot and celery sticks in a zippered baggie wrapped in damp paper towels. Include a dip like hummus or salsa to add appeal. For a creamy dip that goes well with crunchy apple slices, mix a little plain yogurt into a few tablespoons of nut butter.
Think ownership: Allow kids to help pack their lunches. They are more likely to eat foods that they prepared. Supply nuts, dried fruit,and whole grain cereal, and let your child create a homemade trail mix. Have your child mix plain yogurt with unsweetened applesauce or fresh/frozen fruit in the ratio he or she prefers. Invite your child to spread nut butter on mini rice cakes and decorate with raisins. Make air-popped popcorn together, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, eat some right away, and pack some for lunch.
Think simple: Create after-school serve-yourself snack bins in your refrigerator and pantry. Fill the bins with ready-to-eat healthy foods so your child can design his or her snack with them. Include high-fiber, protein-rich, low-sodium foods like individual snack cheese, baked banana or apple chips, raisin snack packs, unsalted nuts or hard-boiled eggs. Tuck a baggie of grapes in the freezer for an ice-cold treat.
Think power: Your power, that is. You are the one doing the shopping. Your kids can’t snack on what’s not there.
True, it’s still much easier said than done. Yet I think we all agree that these young brains and bodies deserve our best, even if it takes a bit of planning and psychology.
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