Well Fed Kids: Tips for Feeding Children A Nutrient Dense Diet During the Hectic School Year

By Elisabeth Frey, HHP/Patient Coordinator

Many parents find the challenge of feeding their kids healthy foods daunting, especially during the busy school year. As a busy mama of both an elementary and middle schooler, I get it! The most common obstacles include the individual preference of the children, food sensitivities, the constant bombardment of junk food at social functions, the lack of convenience, not wanting to create psychological issues surrounding food, and the financial cost of healthy eating. Phew! It really is a lot to consider!  But I hope these little pointers will help make feeding your littles well a more manageable task.

Start Them Young

The best way to minimize issues around eating healthy is by training kids young. Postponing a child’s exposure to processed foods as long as possible will train their taste buds to appreciate the flavors of real foods. If you’re beginning this journey with an older child, take heart, because it’s never too late! 

We are lucky to live in a time where there is increasing awareness of the importance of eating healthy, and there are numerous resources available to help us expose our children to whole foods. Pinterest is a gold mine for recipes that “sneak in” veggies for picky eaters, and for healthy and fun recipes for children and the whole family.  Keep encouraging your children to try new things and don’t be disheartened if there are a lot of failed attempts. You will, over time, find enough kid-approved healthy foods to build a healthy balanced diet for your children. And in the meantime, try to minimize the damage of junk food. For instance, instead of choosing chips made with hydrogenated oils, dyes, artificial flavoring and MSG, choose organic non-GMO popcorn with olive oil and sea salt, and kombucha or sparkling water over sugary juices and sodas. 

Accommodating Food Sensitivities

Here at Longevity, we often focus on mending the gut in order to minimize the role that food sensitivities play in overall health. During the healing process, many foods may need to be avoided so that we can reduce inflammation to allow for repair and restoration of the gut microbiome. Once the gut is healed, most individuals can loosen up a bit, though it is always important to pay attention to the signals your body sends about the food you are eating. Getting healthy is truly a journey in self-discovery and awareness. No two bodies are the same, and so it is imperative to listen to what yours is saying to you about the food you are eating. You may not always like the way your body communicates, but headaches, tummy aches, digestion issues, rashes, and fatigue are all ways that your body lets you know what foods are not working for you. This is an important lesson to teach your children as they grow up, and it will save them so many health issues later in life.

No matter what food sensitivities you have, it is important to make sure you are getting a balanced and nutrient rich diet.  For instance, if you are celiac or gluten-sensitive, it’s important not to just replace your foods with packaged gluten-free substitutes (which contain a lot of starch and sugar to make up for the stickiness that’s missing from gluten). One simple trick I have found that helps ensure my children’s lunches are whole-food based and not built around gluten or gluten free bread is by getting stainless steel stackable lunch containers. It allows me to pack things like soup and salad or last night’s leftovers with ease!  Plus, it reduces the use of single-use plastics. That’s good for us and the environment! They definitely still enjoy a turkey sandwich sometimes, but it is always open-faced, allowing me to minimize the gluten-free bread while stacking the top with lots of veggies (avocado, sprouts, cucumber and lettuce!). The other two containers may contain a salad or veggies to dip in hummus, and some fruit and trail mix, or perhaps a goat milk yogurt parfait loaded with berries and nuts and homemade granola.

Finding a few restaurants in your area that you enjoy and can accommodate your food sensitivities is another way to reduce the frustration of working around your dietary restrictions.

Navigating Social Events

Food is intrinsically communal. It has been used as a centerpiece for social gatherings since the beginning of time, throughout all cultures. There is a beautiful ceremonial quality to it that communicates a sense of belonging and connectedness. Unfortunately, if you are trying to eat a healthy diet in our current culture, it can often feel isolating. You aren’t just missing out on food, but on engaging in a communal experience. There are a few ways to work around this issue.  

Firstly, developing friendships with like-minded families who prioritize their health can be such amazing positive reinforcement as well as offer a communal experience built around nutritious food. Secondly, providing healthier alternatives for your children at social gatherings, especially if there is enough to share with the other children, can keep your kid from feeling like the odd one out. Some teachers even allow you to send in healthier options to keep on hand when one of the other student’s brings in cupcakes for their birthday. This definitely requires some intentionality and planning, but is worth it. I always like to keep my kids favorite, gluten-free/low-sugar pumpkin chocolate chip muffins (made with almond meal!) in the freezer to pull out for just such occasions. Finally, relaxing the standards a little bit for special occasions is okay!  We aren’t seeking perfection, as the stress of such a mindset isn’t healthy in it’s own way. Instead, try to seek a healthy balance between mind and body. If you normally eat healthy, you can rest assured knowing that our bodies can handle a little bit of stress, and that the communal experience is worth it from time to time. 

Plan Ahead for A Busy School Week

Preparation is your secret weapon when it comes to keeping your family eating whole and healthy. This is where your freezer and a little food prep can be your best friends. Sunday afternoons are a great time to stock up on healthy meals and snacks for the week.  I typically make a pot of soup that I can pair with a salad to provide us with at least two dinners throughout the week (invaluable on the nights of practices and other extra-curricular activities) and some breakfast foods for busy mornings, Almond Meal Muffins and eggs in muffin tins loaded with veggies and topped with a little organic cheese. 

Set a Positive Tone

Be mindful of the attitude and language you use around food, as it will most certainly rub off on your child. We can train our children to eat healthy food without making it stressful or shameful.  Physical health should not come at the cost of your child’s psychological health! The goal is to teach them to honor their bodies by feeding it well. Avoid phrases like, “cheat day” or saying “I feel so fat” after a big meal, which both suggest that eating is somehow shameful and food is bad. Instead, try to focus on seeing food as fuel. Certain fuels will make our bodies run better. Encourage your children to see their bodies as vessels that enable them to enjoy life and fulfill the deep purposes for which they are called. Making healthy choices will facilitate physical health, personal growth, and enjoyment of life.

Making It Work On A Budget

Unfortunately, eating healthy can be quite taxing on the wallet. But, once again, with a little intentionality and planning (notice a theme?), you can minimize the cost of healthy eating.  For starters, being willing to food-prep can greatly reduce cost as the majority of expense comes from packaged products. And with budget-friendly stores like Aldi carrying an ever-increasing variety of organic options, healthy eating really is accessible to all, no matter your budget!  It may not be as glorious a shopping experience as strolling through Whole Foods, fresh brewed coffee or fresh-squeezed juice in hand (truly one of my favorite pleasures! Don’t you feel healthier just by being there?!), but organic Aldi produce provides every bit the same nutrition that your body needs, without nearly the temptation to buy expensive pre-packaged products you don’t need.  

Please let me or another Longevity staff member know if you ever have any more specific questions regarding your or your childrens’ diet. We love to see our patients feeling empowered to provide a nutrient-rich diet for their families!  And let us know what things you have learned on your health journey that have made it easier to overcome the obstacles of healthy eating!