Your kids are heading back to school, which means you get a break from keeping an eye on them 24/7. You could be relieved, but you could also be a little worried: who knows what decisions your child will make in the absence of a parent’s watchful eye, especially when it comes to lunchtime. How can you ensure healthy eating habits for your kids when they head back to school?
David Ludwig, MD, PhD, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital recently spoke to Boston.com about quick and easy steps parents can take to pack healthy snacks and school lunches for children. Here are a few of the key points:
School lunch may never have had a great reputation as far as nutrition goes, and things have only gotten worse over the years. Even when you discount obviously unhealthy choices like pizza and fries, hidden salt, artificial flavors and preservatives can tarnish even healthy options provided by many schools. “Almost anything a parent could provide will likely be better than what is served at school,” Ludwig said. “Encouragingly, some districts are aiming to improve the quality of school lunches through collaborations with local farmers, for example.”
Leftovers may get a bad rap, but with minimal effort they can often be turned into a quality lunch the following day.
“Lunches at our house usually involve some variant of what we had for dinner the night before,” Ludwig said. “Adding one new ingredient can make it seem like a whole new meal without much extra time in food preparation.”
A new take on an old favorite
PB&J has been a school lunch standard for decades. It’s a classic for a reason—kids love it. But when made with the wrong ingredients a peanut butter and jelly sandwich offers little more than empty calories. Ludwig suggests tweaking the ingredients to boost the nutritional value of the sandwich. “Use whole grain bread, trans-fat free peanut butter and how about using a 100 percent fruit spread instead of that sugary jelly,” he said. Apple slices can also be included for extra nutritional value.
In elementary school science classes your child will learn that the surface of the earth and the human body are both mostly made up of water. Their beverage options while at school should be the same. “Water really needs to be the main beverage for children.” Ludwig says.
If water is deemed too boring by your child, try adding a twist of lemon or lime. In the morning try offering your child tea with a dash of honey, which still has much less sugar than the six or eight teaspoons found in cola or fruit drinks. “Chocolate milk is also a big problem,” Ludwig said. “Of course kids will prefer sugary milk to plain, but why provide that option if you don’t have to?”
Don’t fear all fats
Not all fats are unhealthy. Fats found in olive oil, avocado and nuts are among healthiest nutrients we can eat. And they don’t promote obesity. Plus, a low-glycemic diet that includes healthy fats can help kids stay full longer, which helps reduce gorging in late-afternoon. Adding avocado or guacamole as a spread on a sandwich is a great way to dress up a sandwich with good fats.
Use “stealth health” if you have to
Your child may have convinced herself that she hates certain good-for-you-foods. Rather than fighting—which can create unhealthy tension between you and your child around eating—a little subterfuge may be OK.
“There are many ways to use ‘stealth health,’” Ludwig said. “Most kid likes pasta, so add pureed spinach or zucchini into the tomato sauce. They won’t even recognize that they’re eating vegetables.”
Keep the kids involved
Because of their busy class and activity schedules, many students may feel like they don’t have much say in how their days are spent. Empower them by letting them play a key role in deciding what they’ll eat during lunch and snack time.
“There’s a simple rule: if kids help select it or cook it, they’ll eat it,” Ludwig said. “Give them a choice and involve them, but guide their choices We live in a fast food culture that tries to get everyone—especially children—to eat the lowest quality, highest calorie foods. Without guidance, kids are more likely to make bad choices.”
Kids who come home from school very hungry are likely to eat more than they need when they first get in the door, so encourage them to eat a healthy snack between meals so they’ll be less likely to gorge after school.
“The worst time to make good decisions about food is when you’re starving,” says Ludwig. “Children who eat a poor quality breakfast or lunch may give in to temptation at school or on their walk home.” A handful of nuts, dried fruit, high quality trail mixes, or an apple and cheese all make healthy, easy to carry snacks to help your child ward off hunger mid-day.
For many parents, sending the kids to school with homemade snacks and lunches just isn’t an option. In these situations, Ludwig suggests parents and kids sit down and review the school’s lunch menu (often found online) to identify the healthy choices and to steer clear of unhealthy ones. Doing it together lets the child feel more involved in his food choices, and will teach him how to make healthy choices even if you’re not with him.
The scales may not be tipping quite so precipitously for some low-income preschoolers. So says a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nineteen states saw small decreases in obesity rates among preschoolers between 2008 and 2011, while rates held steady in another 20 states. Is this cause for celebration, cautious optimism or concern?
Perhaps all of the above, says David Ludwig, MD, PhD, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital. “The report is a small, but encouraging, sign after nearly half a century of bad news.” The latest data, along with several other reports, suggest the era of continually rising obesity rates may be drawing to a close.
That’s the good news. But most epidemics aren’t halted by a crook in the prevalence curve. In fact, containing the obesity curve will require more muscle from federal decision makers. …
When it comes to achieving a healthy weight, nutrition is only one part of the process. Adding exercise to the mix helps build heart health and strength, and—perhaps of equal importance—it also helps build self-confidence.
While regular exercise is paramount, it’s not always easy for a teenager to join their high school’s competitive teams to stay in shape. “It’s hard to tell a kid to join something like soccer if they’ve never done it before, and their peers have been doing it since they were toddlers,” says Sarah Picard, MA, Med, physical activity specialist at Boston Children’s Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Program.
This year with the help of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center, Picard created a solution to that problem, and established OWL on the Water—a joint program with Community Rowing Inc. that allows OWL patients to form an exclusive rowing team, thereby providing habitual exercise and promoting teamwork. …
After spending more than 15 years researching evidence-based ways to prevent and treat childhood obesity, David Ludwig, MD, PhD and director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital knows that obesity is a complex epidemic that can’t be fought from only one angle.
After TEDMED classified childhood obesity as one of its Top 20 Great Challenges of 2012, the public was invited to submit questions about the state of the epidemic and how we might go about reducing childhood obesity. Of these questions, 10 were selected by TEDMED and posed to Ludwig. Here are his responses.
1. What are the top 10 causes of obesity in children, and which ones can be reduced or prevented?
2. Apart from the genetic component of childhood obesity, what do we know about parents’ roles in influencing their children’s weight?
3. Are there affordable and effective programs to reduce childhood obesity that can be reproduced on a large scale?
4. Should we be concerned that campaigns against childhood obesity might have an unintended negative consequence of actually increasing the risk of eating disorders?
5. Studies reveal extraordinary variances in rates of childhood obesity among different groups, such as some Native Americans and African-American teenage girls. Why is this, and how should we address the issue in a culturally sensitive way?
6. What do we know about the impact of food advertising aimed at children, and how effective has voluntary restraint (on the part of food companies, restaurants, etc.) been in combating any negative effects?
7. Because of the relationship between obesity and the development of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, today’s children could be the first generation to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. Which elements of society (including but not limited to care providers, citizens, government, business, religious institutions, or any other group) should play a role in combating this problem, and what steps should they take?
8. Kids spend an average of 7.5 hours a day in front of various kinds of screens (phone, TV, computer, video game). Does this play a role in childhood obesity and, regardless, might screens also be enlisted as part of the solution to childhood obesity?
9. How do gender differences and body image issues influence childhood obesity and how should programs to address childhood obesity take these differences into account?
10. Schools have undertaken a number of special initiatives to combat childhood obesity, including: offering healthier lunches; eliminating soda from vending machines; and weighing students, then sending parents “fat” report cards. Do these programs make a difference? What can and should schools do to help their students achieve and maintain a normal weight?
Our approach at the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital is as extensive as childhood obesity itself—focusing not only on patient care, but also on clinical research, advocacy and community education, and on developing innovative treatments to effectively address each patient’s individual biology and behavior.
The Center’s clinical arm—The Optimal Weight for Life Program—is one of the largest and most respected childhood obesity clinics in the country, and we’ll continue to fight, treat and prevent obesity until every child is well. Request an appointment at one of our Boston, Waltham or Peabody locations.