March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
While it's important to send your children to school with a healthy lunch packed with the nutrition they need to learn, grow and play, it's also important to ensure that they eat it. To ensure that your children's nutritious meal doesn't go to waste, you can encourage interest and appetites with a few of these strategies:
- Sit down once a week and plan lunches together. Then encourage them to pack their own lunch. If kids have a vested interest in their lunch, they're more likely to eat it.
- Let them play before they eat. Studies have found that grade schoolers will eat more and waste less if they have recess before lunch. Talk with your principal or school board to see if this is a possibility for your children's school.
- Celebrate special days. Plan lunch menus around a special event. For example, pack an all-red lunch in honor of Valentine's Day or include a fortune cookie to celebrate Chinese New Year.
- Try new foods. Send along exotic fruits like kiwi or carambola (star fruit). Or go ahead and buy new foods that they are curious about. This will encourage an interest in trying new foods and may be helpful for picky eaters. Even if the food chosen is not as nutritious as you would prefer, remember that all foods have their place in a healthy diet, when eaten in moderate amounts.
- Pack extras to share with friends. If you're trying to get a picky eater to try something new, like celery stuffed with peanut butter, take advantage of the power of peer pressure and pack a few extra items for the other kids to taste.
- Invest in "cool" lunch equipment. An insulated lunch bag and thermos will enable your children to take a wider variety of foods for lunch, such as chilled pasta salad or hot soup. Also, remember to use an ice pack in their lunch box and a quality insulated thermos in order to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold, reducing the risk of food poisoning. Learn more at www.homefoodsafety.org.