What did your kids have for breakfast this morning? A couple of soggy Weetbix or 1/2 a slice of toast? Or did you fail as a parent and could not convince them to eat anything and you simply did not have the energy on this Monday for another fight about food? (Said completely tongue in cheek!) Feeding children can be the bane of many parents’ lives and the good news is that this may not need to be the case, once you know a few tricks of the paediatric nutrition trade. So here is a sample good food day for a primary school aged child and you may find that you are not doing too bad of a job after all!
Yes it is important for primary school aged kids to eat something before they head off for a day of school but breakfast does not have to be a 3 course meal – remember they will in most cases have fruit break an hour or two after starting school. Protein rich breakfasts such as an egg on toast or ham and cheese toasted sandwich on multigrain bread are great options nutritionally but a glass of milk; a tub of Greek yoghurt or a few spoons of a wholegrain cereal with milk can be just as good. Worst case scenario, send them with a couple of crackers and a slice of cheese and they will be well fuelled until recess. Often parent revert to offering kids high sugar breakfast drinks; sugary cereals and chocolate spreads to entice kids to eat at breakfast which does create some poor habits. You are much better to send them with a glass of milk than start a sugary morning habit and if the sugary snacks and white bread is not in the house, the darlings cannot eat them.
If I am honest I much prefer ‘vege break’ to fruit break. Fruit is exceptionally nutritious but our kids eat every couple of hours so they do not need high carbohydrate foods this often throughout the food day. Good vege choices to pack for ‘fruit’ break include carrot sticks, baby tomatoes, and baby cucumbers or chopped red capsicum. If you do like to add some fruit berries, a small stonefruit or a few pieces of melon are all good options – think small kids, small pieces of fruit.
If you think dairy rich choices, you will be on the right track when it comes to snack foods and sustained energy release throughout the morning. Cheese sticks, small yoghurt tubes, small milk poppers are all protein rich snacks that kids will still enjoy. If you do add packaged snacks, look for wholegrain options that contain <100calories per serve and remember, 1 snack food per lunchbox is more than enough. Then a piece of fruit or a vegetable depending on what the kids have had from fruit break completes this meal.
Once kids have already eaten 3 times by 1pm, it is not surprising that they often do not need their lunch so do not get too distressed if they would rather play than eat at this time of day. Plain sandwiches and wraps tend to work best, and if possible as some protein via ham, turkey, cheese or leftovers. Sandwiches can be kept cool via a frozen water bottle and some kids will prefer a chopped style lunch with a few pieces of cheese, cut up vegetables and crackers to a traditional sandwich or wrap.
Kids tend to be starving at 3-4pm each day as it is the longest period of time in which they have not eaten. Avoid carb heavy snack foods this time and look for filling but relatively low calorie snacks to ensure kids do not overeat at this time and ruin their dinner. A single ice cream on a stick (<100cal); frozen Greek yoghurt with berries; a brown rice sushi roll or a few crackers with a glass of milk are all good choices. If kids still complain they are hungry, chopped vegetables until dinner time are your best option. Another trick is to allow kids to choose their afternoon tea once a week – this way you can strike a balance between good nutrition and also allowing foods the kids enjoy eating every now and again
Newsflash – your kids need to eat 1/2 as much as you think they do for dinner. A small 70-100g serve of meat and a couple of spoons of different salad or vegetables. It does not matter how they eat their vegetables – raw, in a soup, chopped into meals or as a salad – as long as they eat 2-3 different varieties you are on the right track. Try not to compensate with large portions of white rice or pasta, instead using these as part of a mixed meal rather than the base and remember that kids like simple, easy fingers foods – tacos, lettuce cups, cutlets and a few chopped vegetables. Keep it simple; save yourself time and know that if they do not eat much, they probably are not that hungry. Just be mindful of drinks – juices, milks and cordials can fill small children up quickly so they don’t want to eat their dinner.
The choice to serve dessert or not at your home is a personal one. Some families routinely serve dessert; others choose to keep it for special occasions. Kids respond well when they know the routine so rather than having them ask for dessert every night, a better option is to nominate the nights on which dessert will be served. Keep heavy options to once each week, but a small amount of yoghurt, fruit or milk drinks will not cause too much of a disruption to calorie intake and offer much nutritionally.
Sample Day (For an 8 year old)
Breakfast: 1 slice wholegrain toast with peanut butter + ½ glass of milk
Fruit Break: Strawberries
Recess: Cheese and cracker snack pack + 2 carrot sticks
Lunch: 1/2 ham wrap, packet of popcorn, chocolate milk popper
After School: Brown rice sushi roll
Dinner: 2 tacos with cheese, tomato and lettuce
Dessert: Pomegranate seeds and 1 scoop ice cream