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Healthy eating tips as kids head back to school

Soon, kids will be heading back to school. And, while you can't be with them all day to make sure they are eating right, there are some things you can do to ensure they are presented with easy, tasty, healthier options. If you help your kids learn how to make smarter choices, before you know it, they'll be earning high marks in healthier eating. Here are some tips to make it as easy as 1-2-3.

The first step is planning. Involve children in meal planning. Have them pick out a new fruit or vegetable they would like to try or let them build their own sandwich. Next, don't let your kids leave home with an empty tank—breakfast fuels the body so it can work its best! But ditch the breakfast pastries. Easy substitutes are fresh fruit, string cheese, nuts and trail mix for a quick breakfast. Keep the lunchbox interesting by varying protein sources such as tuna, peanut butter, turkey, chicken or beans. Also, rotate fruits and vegetables. Apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, celery, carrots and broccoli are all great for lunchboxes. And don't forget: At least three of the five food groups—fruits, vegetables, protein, grains and dairy—are needed for a balanced and filling meal. Finally, send healthier treats, such as sliced apples, baby carrots, popcorn, mandarin oranges for birthdays and class parties and encourage the teacher to ask others to do the same.

Plan ahead to eat together as a family several times each week. Children who eat meals regularly with their families tend to do better in school, so enjoy meals and snacks at the dining table and try to spend 30 minutes together. Always encourage children to stop eating when they feel full.

After school is another key time to try to keep things healthy. If your children are involved in after-school sports or activities, pack a snack of fresh fruit or veggies. Even if they eat concession stand foods, adding fruits and vegetables makes a more filling and balanced snack or meal. If your children are in charge of getting their own after-school snacks, keep ready-to-eat, pre-portioned ideas in an easy-to-reach area. Fruit, cheese sticks, pretzels, veggies, whole wheat crackers and whole-grain cereal (with little or no added sugar) all make great afternoon snacks. Also encourage your kids to carry a water bottle during the day to keep well hydrated. Your body is more than 50 percent water. You need even more water when you exercise and play.

Weekends are important as well. Take the time to make large batches of homemade whole-grain pancakes and waffles, muffins, or hard-boiled or scrambled egg cups in muffin tins—things that can be stored in the refrigerator and reheated for quick grab-n-go breakfasts during the week.

Ask for help. Talk to your child's teachers about avoiding food or candy as a reward. A positive word of recognition or something as simple as a sticker is more successful at reinforcing positive behavior.

Finally, always remember the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the time, eat to fuel your body with food it needs to work its best, then 20 percent of the time, you can indulge a craving. And set a good example. When kids see parents eating well and exercising, they are more likely to do the same.

If you still have questions about your child and nutrition, contact your Primary Care Provider.

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