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A Parent's Guide to Nutrition for Kids - Part 2

Lessons 2-4: Breakfast, Flexibility and Limits

-- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian

Believe it or not, the nutritional needs of children have not changed in the last 20 years. However, the world they live in certainly has. It is quite a different childhood experience for kids and teens, with fast food restaurants on every corner, big-gulp colas, 50 or more TV channels to surf, text messaging, mall hopping, video games, and iPods. It is important that we update our parental nutrition lessons to help them form the best possible eating habits for life in the 21st century.

If you've mastered Lesson 1: Blueprint for a Healthy Diet, then you're ready to complete your nutrition course in Part 2 of this series, which includes Lessons 2, 3 and 4.

Lesson 2: Breakfast is mandatory
When morning rolls around, your child has gone without food for eight or more hours. Do you plan on sending her out the door without eating until lunchtime? No way! Studies show that children who eat breakfast are more alert—learning and performing better in school—than children who don't eat in the morning.

Children who see their own parents eating breakfast are more likely to eat breakfast themselves. Remember, you need breakfast too! Feed your family's brains and power their bodies with these quick and easy breakfast ideas that will please everyone at the table:

  • Ready-to-eat cereal with fruit and milk (Learn about the best—and worst—choices by reading Breakfast Cereal Scams.)
  • Toasted bagel with cheese
  • Fruit-filled breakfast bar with fruit and yogurt
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Peanut butter on whole-wheat toast
  • String cheese with rye crisp crackers
  • Read Healthy & Quick Breakfast Ideas for more ideas.
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Lesson 3: Mealtime Flexibility
When you're busy chauffeuring kids in every direction for activities before and after school, you need to be more flexible than ever when it comes to feeding the family. No longer can "three meals a day" be the golden rule for everyone, all the time.

When time is tight, think meals in minutes, mini-meals, and healthy snacks. Five or six small meals may work the best on some days, while two main meals and two to three mini-meals are better on others. Every home should have a pantry stocked and 2-3 meals that can be prepared in five minutes or less.

The following recipe is a perfect example of a nutritious alternative to fast food that can easily be prepared in just a few minutes. This wrap style sandwich can easy be transported in the car too. Check out SparkRecipes for more quick meal ideas.

Tuna and Coleslaw Wrap
Serves 4
1 can (6 ounces) tuna, drained
1-1/2 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained
1/4 cup reduced-fat coleslaw dressing
4 (8-inch diameter) whole wheat tortillas

In a bowl, add the tuna, cabbage, pineapple, and dressing. Stir to mix evenly. Top each tortilla with one-fourth of the mixture. Fold both sides of tortilla up over the filling and roll to close.

Lesson 4: Reasonable Limits
  • Forbidding goodies entirely is almost guaranteed to send your kids straight to the vending machines at school. Rather than taking an extreme measure, pick snacks and desserts that are lower in fat, sugar and salt, and set limits on frequency and portion sizes. It is never too early to teach your kids how to structure their meals and snacks.
     
  • Schedule times when food will be available for your family to eat. Family meals provide chances to nutritiously refuel the body, while reducing the distracted snacking and overeating that occurs while you and your kids watch TV and play computer games but aren't truly hungry. Learn more about The Benefits of Eating Together.
     
  • Never force, coerce, bribe, or nag your kids to eat certain foods. Serve well-balanced meals and snacks that include foods that you know your kids like, along with things they should be eating. When you eat healthy meals and snacks in front of your children, they'll gradually start nibbling the good stuff too!
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